Southern Miss Preview 2006 - Offense
Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Posted Aug 6, 2006

Southern Miss Golden Eagles Preview 2006 - USM Offense

What you need to know ... USM was all pass and no run last season, and while the team appears to want more of a balance, it hasn't happened despite several efforts over the last few years. However, the personnel is in place to produce much more on the ground with mobile quarterback Jeremy Young taking over for the solid Dustin Almond. Helping the cause will be the veteran rushing punch of Larry Thomas and Cody Hull running behind a talented offensive line with four starters returning. The receiving corps has the potential to be among the best in Conference USA with six good targets along with tight end, and last year's leading receiver, Shawn Nelson. The problems will kick in if there are any injuries up front and/or if Young struggles with his accuracy.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Jeremy Young
5-9, 62 yds
Rushing: Larry Thomas
167 carries, 647 yds, 4 TD
Receiving: Shawn Nelson
35 catches, 540 yds, 5 TD

Star of the offense: Senior OG George Batiste
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Jeremy Young
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Joe Singleton
Best pro prospect: Batiste
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Batiste, 2) TE Shawn Nelson, 3) OG Travis Cooley
Strength of the offense: Starting five on the offensive line, receiving corps
Weakness of the offense:
Offensive line depth

Replacing three-year starter Dustin Almond might not be all that tough. He threw for a ton of yards and was a steady touchdown producer, but he also had his share of off games that proved critical in USM not winning the Conference USA East title. Jeremy Young has to prove he can be a consistent passer. He's a smart player with great running skills, so if he can limit the mistakes, the Eagle offense should be fine. Michigan State transfer Stephen Reaves is a veteran backup, while redshirt freshman Mike Burks will be groomed for the future starting out this year as the number three man.
The key to the unit: Efficiency. USM threw for 246 yards per game last season with Dustin Almond at the helm, but only had an efficiency rating of 127.63 (seventh in the league). Any improvement would be a big help.
Quarterback Rating: 6

Projected Starter
- Jeremy Young, Jr. - 5-9, 62 yds
The 6-3, 210-pound junior is a big, strong, athletic passer who has been around the system long enough to know what he's doing. He wasn't able to see too much time last season with Dustin Almond needed from start to finish, but he has a little bit of live game experience over the last two seasons. While he might not be the passer Almond was, he'll bring a rushing element missing from the attack.

Top Backups
- Stephen Reaves, Jr. 
The Michigan State transfer sat out last season, which wasn't a bad thing considering he had to undergo knee surgery. He saw a little bit of time as a Spartan throwing for 331 yards, two touchdowns, and five interceptions in spot duty over five games. With a live arm and good passing skills, he's the better of the two starting quarterback options. However, he's not nearly the runner Jeremy Young is.

Running Backs
Southern Miss has the experience, power, and speed in its backfield, now it needs production after finishing 97th in the nation and 11th in Conference USA. There's way too much experience and talent to only average 3.3 yards per carry again with Cody Hull and Larry Thomas a veteran pair who'll combine forces to carry the load. The fullbacks have the potential to be excellent with Bobby Weakley looking much-improved this spring and Cole Mason a future top all-around playmaker.
The key to the unit: More big plays. Larry Thomas is too fast to only have a long carry of 21 yards. The longest run on the team last season was Cody Hull's 39-yard dash.
Running Back Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- Cody Hull, Jr. - 130 carries, 542 yds, 4.2 ypc, 3 TD, 10 catches, 66 yds, 6.6 ypc
Hull will combine with Larry Thomas to carry the workload. He's not as good as Thomas, but he's a good all-around back who does a little of everything well with a decent combination of quickness and power. The plan was to rotate him into the mix from game one, but he didn't make much of an impact until the final three games of the season finishing up with a 161-yard day against Arkansas State.

- Fullback Bobby Weakley, Sr. - 12 carries, 48 yds, 4 ypc, 1 TD, 4 catches, 31 yds
The 241-pound senior had a tremendous spring and should be a more effective blocker for the running game. He's not going to catch many passes and he won't offer any wiggle when the ball is in his hands, but he's becoming a more effective power runner.

Top Backups
- Larry Thomas, Jr. - 167 carries, 647 yds, 3.9 ypc, 4 TD, 17 catches, 118 yds, 6.9 ypc
He has the speed and he has the size, but the 6-0, 197-pound junior hasn't been able to put it all together for a full season. He was good in spots rushing for over 100 yards against McNeese State, UAB and Marshall for the bulk of his yards. He didn't hit nearly as many home runs as he should've and wasn't much around the goal line.
- Conrad Chanova, Jr.
It might be hard for Chanova to break through the 1-2 rushing punch of Cody Hull and Larry Thomas, but he has too much speed to keep off the field. He's a sprinter on the USM track team, but he doesn't run like a track guy; he's tough and isn't afraid to power it.

- Fullback Cole Mason, Soph. - 41 carries, 136 yds, 3.3 ypc, 4 TD
The team's top power runner should have an even bigger role around the goal line after scoring four touchdowns in the final five games. While he isn't as big as starter Bobby Weakley, he has more upside. All he needs is more time before he becomes a key cog in the attack.

Depth, speed, size, experience and versatility; this receiving corps has it all. Antwon Courington is gone, but everyone else returns including top receiver, tight end Shawn Nelson, and six wideouts who could see starting time at some point. Anthony Perine and Josh Barnes are the best of the bunch, but sophomore Joe Singleton and junior Chris Johnson would make their way into the starting lineup in a big hurry.
The key to the unit: Stick with the hot hands. There are enough targets to keep spreading the ball around, but it can't be at the expense of any one receiver.
Receiver Rating: 7.5

Projected Starters
- Anthony Perine, Sr. - 31 catches, 441 yds, 14.2 ypc, 2 TD
Perine had problems this spring with an ankle problem, but he still should be the team's top target again. He's one of the faster players in the receiving corps with the talent to make more big plays. He made both his touchdown grabs in the season opener against Alabama and was shut out the rest of the way.

- Tavarres Williams, Jr. - 15 catches, 157 yds, 10.5 ypc
Never quite right last year thanks to a knee problem, the junior should be one of the team's most dangerous targets if he can stay healthy. He was consistent early on before suffering the injured MCL, and then he came back to catch seven passes over the final four games. Unable to get into the end zone, that should change early on this year.

- Josh Barnes, Sr. - 32 catches, 421 yds, 13.2 ypc, 5 TD
The team's top wide receiver last season tied for the lead with five touchdown passes and showed off a little bit of explosiveness with starter Antwon Courington went down. While versatile and physical, he doesn't have the best hands around. If he makes all the plays he's able to, he should be a strong number one target.

- Tight end Shawn Nelson, Soph. - 35 catches, 540 yds, 15.4 ypc, 5 TD
Nelson led the team in receiving as a freshman and was the New Orleans Bowl MVP catching six passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns. In fact, he closed the year out hot with 11 grabs for 234 yards and three scores in the final two games. He's a quick 6-5 and 230 pounds with great route running ability and excellent hands. He needs to improve his blocking skills.

Top Backups
- Damion Carter, Sr. - 14 catches, 252 yds, 18 ypc, 2 TD
The former quarterback has good size at 6-2 and 193 pounds and is starting to become a solid receiver. He has the athleticism and he knows what he's supposed to do, but he has to do a better job of fighting for the ball and being a better downfield blocker.
- Chris Johnson, Jr. - 20 catches, 303 yds, 15.1 ypc, 2 TD
Despite having a few problems with a banged up knee, Johnson still had a nice season highlighted by an eight catch, 113-yard, two touchdown day against UCF. He's excellent at cranking out yards after the catch with dangerous quickness in the open field.
- Joe Singleton, Soph. - 9 catches, 110 yds, 12.2 ypc, 1 TD
One of the team's rising young stars, Singleton started to make an impact over the second half of the season highlighted by a four-catch, 40-yard, one touchdown day against Memphis. At 6-3 and 195 pounds, he's a tall, talented option with glue on his hands. While he'll start out the bear behind Josh Barnes at flanker, he should find time as a starter.
- Tight end Jonathan Palmer, Sr. - 1 catch, 9 yds
The 248-pound senior saw time in 11 games last year being used mostly as a blocker. He's a grinder who won't catch many passes, but he's far better for the running game than starter Shawn Nelson.

Offensive Linemen
The line allowed a mere 12 sacks last season, but it didn't get enough of a push for the running game that averaged only 111 yards per game. Four starters return including three all-star candidates in tackle Chris Clark and guards Travis Cooley and George Batista, and they all need to stay healthy. There's almost no developed depth and, at the moment, a huge drop-off from the first team to the second.

The key to the unit:
Former quarterback Dustin Almond was able to avoid plenty of sacks, but with a new starter under center, the line will have to be just a little bit better.
Offensive Line Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- OT Chris Clark, Jr.
One of the best all-around blockers in Conference USA, the 6-5, 280-pound junior is back for his second year as a starter. A great all-around athlete, he's a fantastic pass blocker on the left side and should grow into one of the team's steadiest players.
- OG Travis Cooley, Sr.
Back after missing the last three games of the year and all of spring ball with a knee injury, the 6-2, 285-pound senior needs to be back and healthy for the line to him. One of the team's stronger linemen, he should be in the hunt for All-Conference honors if he's as consistent as he was last season.
- C Robby D'Angelo, Sr.
The veteran 277-pound senior scared the team this spring going down with a knee injury, but he's expected to be back at 100% by fall. He was a tremendous pass protector with nice athleticism and good technique. While he's not a dominant run blocker, he's good enough.
- OG George Batiste, Sr.
The First Team All-Conference USA performer is back on the right side for his fourth season. He's 6-5, 309 pounds, and great in all phases with the power and toughness to be a pounder for the running game and the feet and agility to be a consistent pass blocker. He's the one the team will run behind for the tough yards.
- OT Ryan McKee, Soph.
The only new starter up front, McKee saw a little time in three games last year and now has to be a key performer on the right side taking over for Neal Mead. He's not huge at 6-5 and 265 pounds with room to grow into his frame, but he's great on the move. Expect him to be a rock for the next three years.

Top Backups
- G Wesley Housley, Soph.
The versatile Housley has seen time at tackle as well as guard. The 283-pound sophomore saw plenty of action this season at left guard filling in for an injured Travis Cooley, but he'll be coming off the bench this fall.
- T Ryan Hebert, RFr.
While Ryan McKee is the unquestioned starter on the right side, the 6-6, 305-pound Hebert brings more size and bulk at 6-6 and 305 pounds. He's be part of the rotation early on.

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