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2008 Southern Miss Preview - Offense
Southern Miss RB Damion Fletcher
Southern Miss RB Damion Fletcher
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 20, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Southern Miss Golden Eagle Offense

Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Southern Miss Preview | 2008 USM Offense
- 2008 USM Defense
| 2008 USM Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Southern Miss Preview
| 2006 CFN Southern Miss Preview 

What you need to know: Gone are the days when the Eagles would keep it on the ground 40 times a game, content to let the running attack and defense lead the way.  Fedora is an offensive innovator, who wants to attack with a one-back, no-huddle offense that spreads the field vertically and horizontally. Although it’s clear where the offense is headed, Southern Miss won’t forget about the running game, especially with all-league RB Damion Fletcher on the roster.  Remember, Fedora’s Oklahoma State offense ranked No. 8 nationally on the ground a year ago.  Of the three players vying to win the quarterback job, sophomore Martevious Young and freshman Austin Davis broke from the pack in what’s become an increasingly tight competition.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Martevious Young
1-1, 2 yds
Rushing: Damion Fletcher
295 carries, 1,586 yds, 15 TD
Receiving: Shawn Nelson
44 catches, 632 yds, 3 TD

Star of the offense: Junior RB Damion Fletcher
Player who has to step up and become a star: Redshirt freshman QB Austin Davis or sophomore Martevious Young
Unsung star on the rise: Senior T Ryan McKee
Best pro prospect: Senior TE Shawn Nelson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Nelson  2) Fletcher  3) McKee
Strength of the offense: The tackles, the running game
Weakness of the offense: Inexperience at quarterback, the interior of the line

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Larry Fedora’s first quarterback in Hattiesburg will either be sophomore Martevious Young or redshirt freshman Austin Davis.  Young played in a pair of games last year and started one, but broke his leg on the third play of the game versus Rice and now has to fight to get his job back.  At 6-1 and 185 pounds, he has a live arm and can make plays with his feet when the situation warrants. To win the job, he must improve his accuracy and get a better grasp of the new system. 

Davis was one the stories of the spring as he closed the gap on Young, and even passed him by many accounts.  A former walk-on who arrived with a baseball scholarship, he was accurate and showed the mobility that Fedora likes in his quarterbacks.  At 6-2 and 205 pounds, he doesn’t throw darts, but he does put the ball where the receivers can make plays.  An afterthought not long ago, he has already played his way into a prominent role in the offense.   

Projected Top Reserves: On the outside looking in right now is redshirt freshman Randy Hardin.  A candidate to make things interesting in the spring, he’s still nursing a foot injury that required surgery and doesn’t expect to be at full strength until the summer.  While only 6-0 and 205 pounds, he’s a classic gunslinger that plays with swagger and could be a nice in the new offense.    

Watch Out For … Davis to be in the huddle when Louisiana-Lafayette visits for the Aug. 30 opener.  Nothing is set in stone at this stage, but he really distinguished himself in March and April, building some distance on the competition.  Fedora likens his quarterback to a point guard in a fast-break, and Davis was dishing like Jeremy Wise.         
Strength: Mobility. Last season, Oklahoma State’s Zac Robinson rushed for 847 yards, so Fedora is no stranger to quarterbacks that can tuck it and run. Young and Davis have both flashed the quick feet and vision to make people miss in the open field.                      
Weakness: Experience. WR Torris Magee has completed as many career passes as Young and Davis…combined.  Not only will the starter be green, but he’s also digesting a complex system that requires the quarterback to be as sharp with his head as he is with his arm.        
Outlook: Fedora hasn’t exactly walked into an ideal situation at quarterback, losing last year’s starter and inheriting a trio with no experience.  Out of the three, he’ll attempt to develop his new triggerman, a distributor that can get the ball in the hands of the Eagle playmakers.                   
Rating: 5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: While Southern Miss is going to throw more than in the past, the running game will not be ignored.  It can’t be as long as 5-10, 175-pound junior Damion Fletcher is on campus. The program’s best offensive player two years running, he’s rushed for almost 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns over that time, adding 47 catches for 369 yards and all-conference recognition.  A classic slasher with outstanding vision in the hole, he’s always moving forward and rarely gets tackled behind the line of scrimmage.  In the new offense, his soft hands as a pass catcher will make him doubly dangerous.

Projected Top Reserves: Now that Tory Harrison and Antwain Easterling have been booted from the program, there’s an unanticipated void behind Fletcher that junior Bubba Kirksey is hoping to fill.  A 5-10, 180-pound transfer from Pearl River (Miss.) Community College, he quickly moved up to No. 2 despite not even having a scholarship.  He showed a nice burst throughout the spring, which was not lost on an impressed coaching staff. 

The only other back with any experience is 5-10, 191-pound sophomore V.J. Floyd, who carried 24 times for 93 yards, most coming in the opening day rout of UT-Martin.  Having slipped behind Kirksey, similar production is expected this fall. 

Watch Out For… true freshman Desmond Johnson.  Rich Rodriguez wanted Johnson at Michigan, but Larry Fedora kept him from leaving Mississippi.  A 6-0, 185-pound speedster, he’s entering an ideal situation to avoid a redshirt year while doing an apprenticeship under Fletcher.                        
Strength: Fletcher. He doesn’t look the part of a workhorse, but he keeps grinding out prodigious numbers for the Southern Miss program.  Last year the line was in transition and the passing game was little help, yet Fletcher still ran for 1,586 yards and 15 touchdowns.                
Weakness: Depth. A strength just a year ago, USM now has grave concerns about its backfield depth, especially since Fletcher hasn’t been the most durable back around.  Kirksey played well in March and April, but that was March and April and he’s a walk-on filling the No. 2 hole.                       
Outlook: Now that Kevin Smith and Matt Forte are in the NFL, Fletcher is set to become Conference USA’s leading man at running back.  He has to stay healthy, however, for all 12 games because the options behind him are limited.
Rating: 8

Receivers

Projected Starters: With five of last year’s top six receivers back in Hattiesburg, Southern Miss believes it can open up the playbook without facing a shortage of reliable hands. Leading the way on the outside will be sophomore Torris Magee, who had a team-high 44 receptions for 632 yards and three touchdowns in his debut. A physical receiver at 6-2 and 204 pounds, he’s athletic, polished, and can go up and get the ball over opposing defensive backs.

On the opposite side will be junior Gerald Baptiste, an 11-game starter who caught the first 28 passes of his career for 283 yards and a touchdown.  A former walk-on with elusive speed, he’s only 6-0 and 171 pounds, a problem when defensive backs jam him at the line of scrimmage.

Taking over at flanker for the Eagles will be sophomore Johdrick Morris, a 6-3, 195-pounder that lettered in his first season, catching 10 passes for 98 yards.  With a nice blend of size and speed, the staff is hopeful he can turn those attributes into a spike in production. 

For the fourth consecutive season, Southern Miss will feature one of the nation’s top tight ends, senior Shawn Nelson. A model of consistency with big play potential, he’s caught at least 33 passes and three touchdown receptions each year, earning a spot on the All-Conference USA First Team in 2006 and 2007.  At an athletic 6-5 and 240 pounds, Nelson is the prototype for NFL tight ends and a Mackey Award candidate.

Projected Top Reserves: After starting six games and catching 17 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns, senior Ed Morgan will provide veteran depth behind Baptiste.  Somewhat limited at 5-9 and 160 pounds, he lacks the yards after the catch that Southern Miss needs from its smaller receivers.

Junior Freddie Parham, on the other hand, has some of the flash and wiggle needed to take short slants and go a long way.  The 6-0, 175-pound transfer from East Central (Miss.) Community College has the 4.3 speed and elevation to make Baptiste very uncomfortable atop the depth chart.

Another JUCO transfer, 6-3, 250-pound Jonathan Massey, will be the backup to Nelson.  Originally with Vanderbilt, he displayed good hands and a willingness to make the tough grabs, pulling down a pair of touchdown receptions in the spring game.   

Watch Out For… incoming freshman DeAndre Brown.  Quite possibly the most heralded recruit to ever sign with Southern Miss, he didn’t turn down offers from the likes of Florida and LSU to watch from the sidelines. If academic hurdles can be cleared, the 6-6, 225-pound wunderkind could become an instant star in this offense.              
Strength: The tight ends.  Massey played so well in the spring, it might force the Eagles to occasionally employ two-tight end sets or split them as wide receivers. Nelson is already a known entity and one of the best in the country at his position.                  
Weakness: Consistency at receiver. Magee has a bright future, but the balance of the Southern Miss receivers are pedestrian at this stage and still prone to making too many mental and physical mistakes.              
Outlook: While the receivers aren’t quite where they need to be, the unit will get there now that Fedora is installing a more passer friendly offense.  In this attack, Magee will once again shine, while Nelson will set personal highs in catches and touchdowns.  Brown is special and in the right town to blossom into a Freshman All-American.                               
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: For the second straight year, Southern Miss will be leaning on its big tackles, senior Ryan McKee and junior Calvin Wilson, while it attempts to prop up the interior of the line.  The program is promoting McKee as a fringe All-American candidate a year after he was named Second Team All-Conference USA.  At 6-6 and 275 pounds, he’s an outstanding pass protector who yielded no sacks in 2007, a trait that’ll become increasingly valuable in the no-huddle spread attack.

While McKee brings finesse to the position, Wilson is all about the raw power. At 6-6 and 352 pounds, he’s the biggest player in the power, a mauler that started the final nine games and had 10 pancake blocks. Surprisingly nimble for his size, he’d still benefit from dropping a few excess pounds that are serving no purpose.

Coming out of spring, sophomore Cameron Zipp held an edge over classmate Alex Michael at center.  The 6-1, 289-pounder saw spot duty in three games as a freshman, making 53 snaps in games that had already been decided.  A heady player, Zipp will have to grow up in a hurry in order to become one of the line leaders and an effective traffic cop.

While the guards won’t be completely green, they do have a lot to prove. On the left side, 6-2, 287-pound senior Wesley Housley played in all 13 games a year ago, starting four and performing well in pass protection. A veteran with three letters, Housley won’t shy away from the challenge of being an every down blocker.

Over on the right side, junior Ryan Hebert brings a more physical presence to the Eagle line. At 6-5 and 305 pounds, he’s a drive blocker with excellent upper body strength.  Hebert overcame a preseason knee injury to play in 11 games, but his next start will be the first of his career.

Projected Top Reserves: The Golden Eagles are banking on a bunch of former junior college players to bolster the second unit. Two in particular, junior G R.J. Brown and junior T Brennan Houston, have worked their way up to the second team. The 6-3, 300-pound Brown performed well in his first spring, showing an ability to play center as well as guard. 

While Houston did not play in his first year out of Cerritos (Calif.) Community College, he’ll be an integral part of the rotation in his second season.  A former tight end with good quickness, he’s bulked up to 6-4 and 301 pounds in anticipation of an expanded role.

Watch Out For… McKee to start receiving recognition beyond Hattiesburg and Conference USA.  If he continues to work and adds more bulk, an NFL future awaits, something that hasn’t been lost on the scouts that’ll be descending the USM campus throughout the fall.                     
Strength: The tackles. In McKee and Wilson, the Golden Eagles boast a pair of all-conference caliber bookends that don’t allow sacks and are huge reasons why the offense averaged over 200 yards a game on the ground.          
Weakness: The pivot. Maybe Zipp will develop into the second coming of Robby D’Angelo, but for now he’s a major question at an important spot on the line. If he’s slow to adapt, everyone else on the offense will be impacted.     
Outlook: The Eagle line is facing some unique hurdles, namely turnover at guard and center and the new terminology that comes with a rookie staff.  It’ll survive as long as McKee and Wilson are keeping opposing defenders from getting near the quarterback.  Whether the unit thrives, however, depends largely on the play of Zipp, the unheralded starter at center.                   
Rating: 6