2007 Southern Miss Preview - Offense

Posted Jul 10, 2007

Preview 2007 Southern Miss Offense Preview

Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Preview 2007 - Offense

- 2007 Southern Miss Preview | 2007 USM Defense Preview
2007 USM Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Southern Miss Preview 

What you need to know: While it’s become fashionable for programs across the country to switch to some fancy derivative of the spread offense, Southern Miss is content to pound the ball on the ground, control the clock and let its defense win games.  Sure, the Eagles prefer balance, but in Hattiesburg, the run continues to set up the pass.  Last year’s league-leading rusher, sophomore Damion Fletcher, is back for an encore, and this time, he brought friends.  Southern Miss is deep in the backfield, which will take pressure off versatile, yet erratic, senior quarterback Jeremy Young.  His favorite target will again be tight end Shawn Nelson, a future pro with All-America potential.  For a change, there are restless moments about an offensive line that’s replacing three starters, two of which were First Team All-Conference USA in 2006.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Jeremy Young
161-281, 1,769 yds, 12 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: Damion Fletcher
276 carries, 1,388 yds, 11 TD
Receiving: Shawn Nelson
36 catches, 506 yds, 3 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore RB Damion Fletcher
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior C Rick Thompson
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman WR Torris Magee
Best pro prospect: Junior TE Shawn Nelson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Nelson  2) Fletcher  3) LT Chris Clark
Strength of the offense: Running back
Weakness of the offense: The interior of the line, receivers


Projected Starter: The toe on senior Jeremy Young’s foot that ached for so long last year was the most talked about appendage in Hattiesburg.  The nagging turf toe that plagued the quarterback for two-thirds of 2006 limited his mobility and affected his throwing mechanics.  Young still delivered a workmanlike 12 touchdown passes and four touchdown scampers in his debut as the starter, but never had a breakthrough moment or more than 250 yards of total offense in a game.  That should change, however, now that he’s pain-free for the first time in almost a year.  Young is 6-3 and 218 pounds with a live arm, good wheels and a comfort zone in this offense.  It all adds up to a solid senior season provided he plays with more consistency and gets help from his unproven receivers.                 

Projected Top ReservesStephen Reaves is a well-traveled, heady senior, who understands his role as Young’s insurance policy.  In other words, he’s an ideal backup quarterback to have on a roster.  A former Michigan State transfer, he threw 72 passes in eight games last year, and won’t implode if called off the bench in a big spot. 

While the first two slots on the depth chart are set, the battle for the No. 3 job between junior Todd Wilson and redshirt freshman Martevious Young is actually the early audition for the starting job in 2008.         

Watch Out For… Young’s maturation as a complete quarterback.  Physically, he has plenty of upside, but unless he starts making better downfield reads and smarter throws, only a fraction of that potential will be fulfilled in 2007.
Strength: Young’s mobility.  Nothing frightens a defense more than a big, strong quarterback that can pull the ball down and run for first downs.  Now that he’s close to 100%, Young has that ability to demoralize a defense with his arm and legs. 
Weakness: Consistency.  With Young, he can look unstoppable on one series and unbearable on the next.  With 14 games of starting experience in the vault, he needs to become a more reliable passer, especially on third and long.
Outlook:  It’s now or never for Young, who has one more season to parlay his multi-dimensional skills into a big year.  While he’ll never be asked to carry the Eagle offense, he will finish the year as one of Conference USA’s three or four highest rated passers.  
Rating: 6

Running Backs

Projected Starters: This time last year, it was a Southern Miss-tery whether the Eagles even had a back capable of carrying the load.  Today, they’re loaded.  Not only is USM set at the position in 2007, but thanks to some outstanding recruiting, it could be in fine shape through 2010.  Sophomore Damion Fletcher filled the void and then some last season, rushing for a school freshman-record 1,388 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Not very big or super fast, he runs with great vision and hits the hole so quickly that he’ll pick up six or seven yards before the defense ever makes first contact.  At just 175 pounds, Fletcher got banged around some last year, and would benefit from extra time in the weight room.  

When the offense uses a fullback, it’ll likely turn to 6-3, 246-pound senior Marcus Raines, a powerful ex-linebacker who’ll be trying to reinvent himself on the offensive side of the ball.

Projected Top Reserves: As magnificent as Fletcher was in 2006, it’s hard to believe that classmate Tory Harrison was the higher rated of the two coming out of high school.  Had Harrison not suffered a leg injury shortly after arriving, it’s conceivable that he, not Fletcher, would have been the Freshman All-American.  He’s a bigger option with deceptive who impressed when he finally got playing time in November.  Harrison’s last 44 carries of his rookie year produced 299 yards and a pair of touchdowns.  He’s 1A to Fletcher’s No. 1, but both will get plenty of carries in 2007. Meanwhile …

Watch Out For… true freshman Antwain Easterling.  But wait, there’s more.  While Harrison is good and Fletcher is very good, neither has the upside potential of Easterling, a can’t-miss prospect that spurned the likes of Florida, Miami and Florida State during the recruiting process.  If recent off-field problems don’t haunt him, he has the ability to command carries, even in a crowded backfield.
Strength: Depth.  Fletcher is already a proven all-league runner, and his presence in the backfield may be the only thing that keeps Harrison and Easterling from putting up impressive numbers early in their careers.
Weakness: Lack of a power back.  Unless Raines shows he can handle carries, the running game is stocked with shifty, explosive backs, but void of 200-pound runners that can move a pile in short yardage.
Outlook: While the yards may be tougher to come by behind a rebuilt line, this trio has a chance to be the best collection of runners in school history.  Fletcher might struggle to reach 1,000 yards, but that may not be a bad thing for an offense that’ll spread out the touches more than last season.
Rating: 8


Projected Starters: Three of last year’s top four wide receivers have graduated, but considering how many passes they dropped and blocks they missed, maybe starting over isn’t such a bad thing.  Senior Chris Johnson is the lone returning starter of the group, meaning he’ll need to take on more of a leadership role in 2007.  He caught 23 passes for 253 yards and five touchdowns, giving him seven scoring catches over his last 42 receptions. 

When the Eagles go three-wide, Johnson will be joined by junior split end Ed Morgan and promising redshirt freshman flanker Torris Magee.  The 5-9, 160-pound Morgan caught seven passes in 2006 for 116 yards and a score, flashing good speed and an ability to pick up yards after the catch.  He is, however, a liability as a run blocker, which is something that all Eagle receivers are asked to do. 

At 6-2 and 200 pounds, Magee is the biggest, and possibly most athletic, of the team’s wideouts.  USM’s top recruit from 2006, he runs well, can leap out of the stadium, and is well positioned to be a big fish in a small pond with the Eagles.

With so much uncertainty at wide receiver, Jeremy Young is going to look for all-league tight end Shawn Nelson now more than ever.  The junior’s production plateaued last year, which had more to do with an ankle injury, a broken bone in his hand and a new quarterback than anything else.  Built like a traditional tight end, Nelson has the speed to split seams and 71 catches for more than 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns already on the resume.    

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Rodney Gray showed enough as a freshman, catching 16 passes for 160 yards, to be considered the top backup entering this season.  He’s a rangy, 6-3 pass-catcher that can still grab a starting job by showing more consistency when the Eagles reconvene in August. 

One of the team’s biggest surprises of April was Ralph Turner, a lightly-recruited redshirt freshman that was tabbed Most Improved Offensive Player of spring.  A mere 5-8 and 170 pounds, he’s very fast and difficult to snare in the open field.  Turner’s going to contribute somewhere, even if he’s initially making his mark on special teams.          

Watch Out For… Nelson to be among the nation’s most prolific tight ends in 2007.  He’s completely healthy again, and the only sure thing on the receiving corps.  Every time Young needs a first down this fall, he’ll be looking for where No. 1 is on the field.
Strength: Nelson.  At 6-5 and 245 pounds, Nelson is a top-tier pass-catching tight end that’s also improving as a downfield blocker when the play is developing behind him.
Weakness: Big play potential.  If Magee isn’t ready to be the team’s home run threat, Southern Miss is sorely lacking receivers that can open up the field and free up some of the congestion underneath for the tight ends and backs to make plays.
Outlook: Nelson is a star and Johnson is steady, but unless one of the young receivers develops in a hurry, Southern Miss will be home to a pretty pedestrian group of pass-catchers in 2007.
Rating: 5.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: The graduation of guards George Batiste and Travis Cooley and center Robby D’Angelo puts Southern Miss in the difficult position of trying to replace the heart of the line and three really good linemen.  Taking over for D’Angelo at the pivot will be junior Rick Thompson, a smallish player who participated in 138 plays last year.  He’s quick off the snap and improving with his calls at the line, but at 6-0 and 275 pounds, powerful nose tackle are liable to engulf him this season. 

The new guards are projected to be junior Wesley Housley and sophomore Ryan Hebert, but both will get challenged again in the summer.  Small and quick at 6-2 and 290 pounds, Housley has filled in for Cooley in each of the last two seasons, starting three games and delivering a dozen knockdowns in 2006.  He’s played a lot of football for the Golden Eagles, and should be up to the new challenge. 

At 6-5 and 310 pounds, Hebert is the biggest and most physical of the linemen.  Southern Miss needs a road grader on the inside, a role the program hopes the sophomore can fill.

The landscape at tackle is far more stable and predictable with the returns of senior Chris Clark on the left side and junior Ryan McKee on the right.  Both players were rocks a year ago, starting all 14 of the program’s games.  Now in his third year as a starter, Clark is the team’s best blocker, a nimble pass protector that can also open holes for the ground game. 

McKee sat out the spring following foot surgery, but is expected back in time for the start of the season.  Light on his feet, he slides well in pass protection, but at 6-5 and 275 pounds, he can be knocked off his base by stronger defenders.    

Projected Top Reserves: The gameplan called for sophomore Micah Brown to challenge Hebert at right guard in the spring and back up Thompson at center, but he missed all 15 practices with a broken foot.  Although he’ll be ready for the opener, the lost time has slowed his development and hurt his chances of winning a job. 

Coaches have shifted senior Nick Dean from guard in the hopes that he’ll be the line’s best option off the bench at tackle.  In his first year out of Itawamba (Miss.) Community College, he played in six games and earned a letter.         

Watch Out For… JUCO transfer Julius Gray.  The Eagles need immediate help at guard, and Gray was recruited to provide it.  If he stays in shape and picks up the offense, the 6-4, 325-pounder will get every opportunity to be an integral part of the line rotation.  
Strength: The tackles.  Clark and McKee are returning starters, which puts them light years ahead of the rest of their linemates.  Opposing defenses are going to find that the easiest path to the quarterback involves avoiding an outside rush.
Weakness: The interior.  You don’t get better by losing three terrific blockers, like Batiste, Cooley and D’Angelo.  In fact, the drop-off might be so steep that it impacts the prolific USM running game.
Outlook: It’s going to be an off year for a Southern Miss line that’s been so reliable the last couple of years.  The pass protection will survive, especially with nimble Jeremy Young behind center, but there’s going to be a little less running room in 2007 for that stable of good Eagle backs.
: 6


Related Stories
2007 Southern Miss Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 10, 2007
2007 Southern Miss Preview - Defense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 10, 2007
2007 Southern Miss Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 10, 2007

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