It is never to early to start talking football.
Sure, it's the end of February and there are still.. oh, about six months until kick-off, but we here at GoldenEaglePride.com are always ready to talk a little pigskin. And with the Golden Eagles heading into the spring, there certainly is quite a bit to talk about.
Over the course of the next few weeks, to get us ready for spring practice, GoldenEaglePride.com is going to dig into 10 questions that we have heading into spring practice.
Todd Monken has moved on to the NFL, but his fingerprints remain on this football team. Monken did what he set out to do at Southern Miss, he brought a program that was on life support back to health. Make no mistake about it, the Golden Eagles are not rebuilding anymore. They have in place what they need to be successful next season, and there is an air of expectation even with the change in staff.
Enter former Alcorn Head Coach Jay Hopson, a man with roots at Southern Miss as he served as defensive coordinator under Jeff Bower. Hopson comes in knowing the talent is in place to win a conference championship, he just has the task of keeping the train rolling while also implementing his own style.
With the staff nearly all in place, things turn to evaluating the roster and starting to try and put the pieces together. That's exactly what we are going to try and do with this series leading up to Spring practice.
So, in no particular order, the first question we are going to look at today is how is Southern Miss going to replace two of the top pass catchers not only from the team last season, but two of the top in the entire conference?
In Michael Thomas and Casey Martin, Southern Miss had 151 catches, 2,316 yards, and 21 TD's. I'm no math major, but that's a significant chunk of the offense from last season now gone to graduation and Thomas to the NFL. His defense stretching ability and Martin's sure hands will sorely be missed next year.
So, the obvious question remains.. how do the Eagles find that type of production again?
Well, the short answer lies in the fact that Southern Miss will have to divy out that production amongst a variety of receivers that have to step up their role without the two stars. There just isn't a Michael Thomas on the current roster, so the Eagles are going to have to get it done with depth and quantity. The good news is that there is help on the way in the form of JuCo talent.
The #1 target turns over to D.J. Thompson, who certainly has the skills to be a go to guy. He's not as fast or explosive as Micheal Thomas (but who is), but he's reliable, has good length, and can make plays in traffic. He's also got very good chemistry with quarterback Nick Mullens that will help tremendously.
Beyond Thompson, on the roster the Eagles will be looking for that complimentary guy. Could it come in the form of Korey Robertson who showed flashes early of being a steady hand? Could Jordan Mitchell continue to make strides and step into a starting role? Both Roberston and Mitchell will be sophomores, with Korey having an extra redshirt year.
Marquis Ricard was hurt last year and didn't see the field, but if he can return back up to speed he can be a real threat. Southern Miss also will be looking to redshirt freshman Reid Rials, who could develop into a player in the mold of a Casey Martin. We are told he's a good route runner who has excellent hands and good quickness. The Eagles will need all of these guys to develop at a fast pace and step up quickly.
They will all be pushed by a talented group of WR's coming in from the JuCo ranks, where the likely go to targets not named D.J. Thompson will likely come from.
Isaiah Jones is 6'3, 200lbs and he's very talented. He signed with Florida State out of high school so you know he has the ability to be a big time WR. He's also on campus early and working out with the team. His speed will certainly help stretch the field too. Jones was described at Florida State as a big bodied excellent route runner who looks smooth out on the field.
Also entering the WR corps is Allanzae Staggers. At 6'1, 190 he doesn't have quite the physical presence, but has good speed and sure hands. He could work the slot and also could be moved outside. He's another one getting valuable work even before the spring starts as he's on campus and working out.
In Shannon Smith, the Eagles are getting more speed and size. He's a weapon at 6'4, 215 pounds. The length USM has added will be a valuable bones for Nick Mullens next season, as they'll certainly pose plenty of match-up nightmares.
Another guy coming on board in the fall that could turn some heads is Athens, AL produce Quez Watkins. When you think Watkins, just think speed. I was told by one of the writers from Scout that saw Watkins play that he is one of the most explosive WR's in the state from last year's class. If he can come in and quickly learn the offense, he might have a chance to contribute and can add some defense stretching ability, too.
We'll talk about the tight ends later, but for now the Golden Eagles will be looking for help to try and fill the big hole left by Thomas and Martin. The good news is they'll continue the same scheme and also will have the same signal caller from a year ago who put up record breaking numbers for Southern Miss. This will certainly be something to watch closely as spring practice nears.