Gamecock Defense Shines In First Scrimmage Of Spring

Head coach John Grass

Head coach John Grass

JACKSONVILLE — The only coaches left on Jacksonville State’s football staff from last season are on the offensive side of the ball.

There was no lack of confidence in the offense coming into spring practice. However, it was the defense that shined in the Gamecocks’ first full-contact scrimmage of the spring.

“I think we’re almost ahead of schedule,” first-year head coach John Grass said, “as far as learning new terminology and a new system. Our guys are just more football fluent this time this year than they were last year. Our football knowledge is better. I think they’ve been able to pick up to it really quick.”

The defense only allowed the offense one touchdown in an 80 play scrimmage. It forced three turnovers, including Bryant Mitchell’s interception return for a touchdown early on. The goal for every practice is four.

“The defense has just got to get the ball and find a way to score points,” Mitchell said, ” and help our offense out whenever we need to.”

Redshirt-freshmen Darius Jackson and Siran Neal made a case for playing time Saturday. They joined the turnover party when Jackson caught an interception and Neal recovered a fumble.

“I came out and showed people I can play,” Neal said. “The ones who didn’t play last year, the redshirt freshmen, I think we came out and did a pretty good job at giving everybody a good look a good look at what we’re going to do in the season.”

Injuries to the offensive line plagued the offense’s production all day. The lone offensive touchdown came on redshirt-sophomore Eli Jenkins’ 28-yard pass to junior wide receiver Telvin Brown. But, it was his maturity under pressure that impressed Grass the most.

After scrambling out of the pocket, Jenkins fired a pass into the empty seats. Such a play is usually nothing to admire. But Jenkins has a history of forcing passes into coverage while under pressure.

“I just think it’s a year of maturity and growing up,” Grass said. “I was very pleased with him not throwing any dangerous balls. Him throwing the ball over the middle and making some completions and things he did with the ball was very good.”

According to Grass, Saturday’s scrimmage was junior running back Miles Jones’ “best scrimmage by far.” Jones showed a few bursts on the ground, but his pass blocking is what stole the show. He laid a punishing block on a blitzing Neal.

“(Jones) did really good today,” Grass said. “He’s coming on. I think he’s growing up. He knows what we expect out of him and had a very productive spring practice today.”

One question that still remains is who will fill the vacancy at kicker left by All-American Griffin Thomas. Grass called it “the biggest hole we’ve got to fill.” Even so, he was most impressed with kicker Conner Rouleau’s at the end of the scrimmage.

“He’d been struggling a little bit,” Grass said, and then we kicked right there at the end of practice and he did well. I know he missed one early. But i think he’s getting better.”

The Gamecocks will return to practice Tuesday morning before scrimmaging again Thursday morning. They will practice in shorts on Friday before being released for spring break.

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