Scrimmage could help separate Southern running backs

Two weeks into the fall practice schedule and three weeks away from the season opener, the Southern Jaguars have their share of questions going into Saturday’s first scrimmage of preseason practice.

One of the biggest is how their stable of tailbacks will shake out come Aug. 30.

Projected starter Lenard Tillery is sidelined with a minor ankle injury.

“Tillery has had a pretty nice spring,” running backs coach Elvis Joseph said. “He’ll back in a couple of days, so we’re just going to be smart with him right now. We don’t want to push him.”

The injury to Tillery will give the other backs a chance to showcase their abilities and make their claim to be included in the rotation this fall.

It’s a rotation that will consist of two to three players per game, Joseph said.

“We’ll try to rotate two guys and get a third guy in there on game day,” Joseph said. “But we are going to be looking for two guys to carry us until we get a third guy.”

The Jaguars have five backs vying for those snaps at tailback as senior Darius Coleman and junior Londres Johnson compete with freshman John West, Kylum Favorite and Tillery jockey for position.

“They’re all pretty special with the ball in their hands,” Joseph said. “They catch the ball real well. We want them to understand all the protection schemes by Aug. 30.”

Favorite, a graduate of West St. John, received a fair amount of praise for his strong work ethic.

“He’s working real hard every day,” Joseph said. “He’s a gifted kid, and we worked real hard to get him here. We were happy to get him on campus. He’s picking up the offense pretty well.”

Joseph said Tillery is putting in the time to make himself a better football player.

“He’s learning the protections,” Joseph said. “He’s learning the whole offense. He’s spending the extra time in the office to come see me on his off time.

“He’s a kid that wants to play and wants to learn, so we’re real excited about that.”

West, a freshman who transferred from Troy, has also gained praise for his solid work ethic.

Johnson capped Thursday’s practice with a shifty touchdown scamper against the first-team defense.

Coleman is the only one of the five running backs to see game action last seasons, appearing in seven games and tallying 183 rushing yards.

“He (Coleman) brings experience to a young group,” Joseph said. “We look for him to get some reps and help out on game day.”

Joseph specified what he wants to see out of his backs during Saturday’s scrimmage.

“We need to make sure they’re sound in their protection,” Joseph said. “We got to make sure we can protect (quarterback) Dray Joseph. As far as natural ability, all these guys can play. The most important aspect is pass protection — keeping Dray off the ground.”

Coach Dawson Odums echoed Joseph’s sentiment in wanting to see solid pass protection out of the backs during the scrimmage as well as holding on to the football.

“If we can do that, we’ll be all right,” Odums said.

“We’re working on some new protection schemes,” Joseph said. “But right now those guys are doing a good job of picking it up.

“The guys are spending extra time learning protections, and I feel real comfortable with all of them protecting the quarterback.”

The scrimmage Saturday and Aug. 17 could prove pivotal in deciding which backs will be in the rotation this fall for the Jaguars.

“We’ll evaluate these guys in these scrimmages and find out who our top three is,” Joseph said.