Top receivers Berry, Hawkins join RBs Nzekwe, Joseph
For the second day in a row, Southern was without key offensive players when it took the field for practice.
And on Wednesday, the first day of full pads, that list grew even longer.
After losing running backs Sylvester Nzekwe (ankle) and Jerry Joseph (knee), the Jaguars also had to do without top receivers Michael Berry (hamstring) and Charles Hawkins.
Coach Stump Mitchell said Hawkins’ absence was because of a dentist appointment, and he expects the three injured players back at various times in the next week.
Joseph was not at practice Wednesday, while Nzekwe and Berry were in shorts and practiced catching footballs from a passing machine beneath the grandstand of A.W. Mumford Stadium.
On the bright side, all of those absences meant more chances for their backups to shine.
“It gave those receivers and opportunity to make some plays,” Mitchell said. “Lee Doss, we know he’s going to make some plays, but these other guys are getting an opportunity for us to see what kind of weapons we have.”
The play of the day belonged to redshirt freshman Mike Jones, who caught a pass near the right sideline in front of defensive backs Marquon Webster and Mychal Bell.
Boxed in, Jones ran backward toward the middle of the field, then spun outside and sprinted up the sideline for a touchdown that sent the team — well, the offense — into a frenzy.
Freshman Willie Quinn, a 5-foot-5 wideout from Miami, has been the biggest head-turner of camp, and he kept up the pace Wednesday, making a diving catch in front of two defenders in the middle of the field and also seeing time as a kick returner.
“I like Willie Quinn,” Mitchell said, grinning. “He’s a small guy, but he’s going to be exciting for us.”
Kickers need confidence
If Southern is to fix a kicking game that was just 5-for-10 on field goals and 22-for-29 on extra points a year ago, it’s up to Matthew Hill or Gregory Pittman.
So far, neither of them has stepped up to grab the starting role, but Wednesday offered a glimpse of Hill’s potential.
Mitchell lined the team up for a 52-yard field goal, but Hill pulled it far left. Mitchell lined them up again, this time instructing Hill to kick it like an extra point. He made it.
“The kickers have to have belief in themselves,” Mitchell said. “Don’t worry about the distance of the kick, just be smooth through your swing and make it. I knew he could make the kick, but he was worried about the distance.”
Hill’s longest made field goal last year was 24 yards, while starter Manuel Canto’s longest was 38.
Pittman, a freshman, is likely to start on kickoffs, but the battle for field goal kicker remains unsettled.
Jaguars go full-contact
Mitchell has said many times he hopes he’ll have a more physical team this season, and Wednesday gave him a first look at how that’s panning out during the goal-line drills that the Jaguars worked on toward the end of practice.
“I thought it went well, I really did,” Mitchell said. “We ran a two-minute drill for the most part, and the defense stopped our No. 2 offense, and our No. 1 offense scored against our No. 2 defense. We expect a little competition, and we expect those guys with experience to do their jobs.”
Southern will begin two-a-days on Thursday, with a morning practice in helmets and full-contact in the afternoon.