Jags Surprise Up Front

If any one unit has stood out in South Alabama first two games, it is the offensive line. The outstanding work of this group as resulted in 43 points per game and an average of 287 rushing. Offensive line coach John Turner gives JagsJungle.com a look at how they have developed to this point.

"Ive been impressed with how the guys have handled the season so far," said Turner. "Obviously we're never satisfied, but I look at our guys and they come to practice every day, they study and they work hard. With most of the guys being junior college players, they've been in some fights before, so they understand the game. They're not coming into it like freshman. They understand what it takes to be successful. We've put it on them to get things done up front and they've done a pretty good job so far with the way they've battled. I'm proud of them."

The way the spring started this year was with a predominantly junior college driven group, with a few exceptions like redshirt freshman starting center Trey Clark, that had never played together. This was a strategy Coach Joey Jones had decided on after trying all freshmen when he started the Birmingham Southern program. How they would preform was a huge unknown.

"We've been fortunate," said Turner. "The guys came in and gelled together. We struggled a bit in the spring. A lot of people had questions and were nervous about the offensive line, but I knew if we stayed the course these guys would be fine. We have been fortunate in that these guys are great people. One day we'll be at the point where we'll have offensive linemen who are here for four or five years, but right now we really have enjoyed coaching these kids who are a little bit older"

Turner wants to make it clear, however, that the success the team has enjoyed offensively goes beyond what he and the linemen have provided.

"One thing I want to say is that Coach Gregory, Coach Rodrigue, Coach Perry and Coach Craig have done a great job helping the offensive line along too with the positions that they coach. For example, our running backs run like maniacs and the tight ends do unbelievable job blocking, receivers are getting open and quarterbacks aren't having to hold the ball too long. A lot of things are working together. We're getting some credit for some things but, I'm telling you, it's a team unit up there and a lot of positive things have taken place all the way around."

Before the Army game, Coach Turner was only comfortable playing six offensive linemen. In addition to Clark, Chris Brunson, John Griffin, Cory Pittman, and Brian Krauskopf have been the starters with Levi Slaydon coming off the bench to play tackle ("He's good enough to be a starter," says Turner). This allowed Krauskopf to move other places in the line as needed. These days, however, the Jags are gaining more and more confidence in a few new players. True freshman Aiman Al-Sewadi of Washington High School in Pensacola has been impressive with his physical style of play and reserve center Ryne Baxter, a redshirt freshman who won a state title at local St. Paul's High School now have Turner comfortable in going eight deep. A few other players, led by redshirt freshman Sean Greenwood, may get some playing time as the year progresses as well. If anyone is wondering where the two scholarship freshman offensive linemen, Sean Kennedy and Josh Terry, are in all of this, the answer is that they are hoping to be able to redshirt the pair. Far from being an indictment of their abilities, this is a sign of how much the coaching staff believes they will be good players when the Jags start playing FBS teams in the future. "We want to have them around when we're playing Mississippi State and Troy and Middle Tennessee and Tennessee. We're excited about them and want to have them around for a long time" Turner said.

With the entire offensive line consisting of juniors and freshman, the line will be a focus this year's recruiting class, along with the secondary. The goal is to sign four to six players who can add depth next year and then hopefully be prepared to compete for starting roles the year after that. Some of that number may include more junior college linemen who would enable the coaching staff to redshirt some current players and extend their time at USA so that they can help as the schedule gets progressively tougher.

The offensive line, and the entire team, will face their most challenging opponent yet this weekend as they take on junior college powerhouse Georgia Military College. The Bulldogs of Milledgeville, GA have already got the respect of the USA coaches.

"They are very talented," said Turner. "They've got guys on that defense that are going on to SEC and ACC schools. Their defensive line is going to be a real challenge for our inside three with the way they use their hands and get their pad level so low. We're not very big and they are, so that makes me a little nervous. They've got linebackers bigger than two of my interior linemen. Their a 3-5-3 team, always moving their front, always moving their front, never playing in one place, moving their linebackers, attacking, blitzing, just a very aggressive defense. A lot of these guys are sophomores, guys who are our age. This won't be like playing a prep school. They're big and physical and strong. It's going to be a great game and a great challenge. They've got some tough schemes, their blitz schemes are great and they're going to come at us hard.

On the other hand, Turner also can see things from GMC's point of view.

"It's going to be a great challenge for them. You know they're excited about it too - coming down here and getting after us and showing us they know what they're doing."

Perhaps the biggest topic of conversation among Jag fans is how good is this program right now. It is safe to say that they've proven themselves above the prep school level but where would they rank if they played in the NCAA? Division 3? Division 2? It turns out fans aren't the only ones who have these conversations.

"We've sat there and discussed that," Turner said. "Are we better than D2? Are we as good as a small 1AA? I think we're somewhere in between. I really do. I look at our guys and I think: Could we go up and compete with UT-Chattanooga, where I was previously? Probably not. But we could make it a game for while. With their level of seniors I think they would pull it out at the end. I'm not sure we couldn't compete in the Big South, though. I think we would be a good Division 2 team and maybe an OK 1AA football team. Somewhere around there. But there's no question that Georgia Military would be right there too"

With the 2-0 start to begin this inaugral season, many fans and other observers are surprised at how fast the program seems to be establishing itself. When looking for reason why a team is successful, knowledgeable football fans will tell you it's what's up front that counts. Undoubtedly it is the work of Coach John Turner and his offensive linemen that will pave the way for more success as the season rolls along.

Jaguars Report Top Stories