2009 Southern Miss Preview - Offense
Southern Miss RB Damion Fletcher
Southern Miss RB Damion Fletcher
Posted May 22, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Southern Miss Golden Eagle Offense

Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Southern Miss Preview | 2009 USM Offense
- 2009 USM Defense
| 2009 USM Depth Chart
- 2008 USM Preview | 2007 USM Preview
| 2006 USM Preview 

What you need to know: Last year was supposed to be a painful transition from Jeff Bower’s power ground game to Larry Fedora’s no-huddle spread. Yet, Southern Miss still managed to average 433 yards and 30 points a game, setting the stage for what might be a launching pad season in 2009. Like a poor man’s Oklahoma State, Fedora’s former employer, the Golden Eagles have star potential at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. However, after QB Austin Davis, who was a revelation in his debut, question marks exist that could keep the lid on this unit. Will 1,000-yard RB Damion Fletcher get the okay to return after being suspended before the spring? Has prolific WR DeAndre Brown fully healed from the broken leg he suffered in last year’s bowl game? Will the line do a better job in pass protection? If the program can successfully address those concerns, 40 points a game could be the new standard in Hattiesburg.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Austin Davis
261-454, 3,128 yds, 23 TDs, 8 INT
Rushing: Damion Fletcher
219 carries, 1,313 yds, 10 TD
Receiving: DeAndre Brwon
67 catches, 1.117 yds, 12 TD

Star of the offense: Senior RB Damion Fletcher
Player that has to step up and become a star
: Senior LT Kyle Burkhart
Unsung star on the rise: Junior TE Jonathan Massey
Best pro prospect
: Sophomore WR DeAndre Brown
Top three all-star candidates
: 1) Fletcher,  2) Brown,  3) Sophomore QB Austin Davis
Strength of the offense: Balance, red-zone offense, ball protection, run blocking
Weakness of the offense
: Wide receiver depth, pass protection


Projected Starter: Sophomore Austin Davis wound up being the answer to the riddle that existed at this position before the start of last season. In his first season, he was a revelation running the Eagles’ new offense, going 261-of-454 for 3,128 yards, 23 touchdowns, and eight picks, while adding 508 yards and nine scores on the ground. As good as he was statistically, it couldn’t compare to his value as a team leader, hard worker, and positive presence in the huddle. At 6-2 and 206 pounds, he doesn’t have scary arm strength, but he’ll get the ball where it needs to be and proved durable despite absorbing so many hits.

Projected Top Reserves: After losing the battle with Davis, 6-1, 188-pound junior Martevious Young had to know he’d be spending the balance of his career, barring injury, as a backup. A nice athlete, he has a long way to go as a passer. He does have some game experience, even starting one in 2007, and has had a full season to digest the nuances of the system.

Rounding out the depth is 6-1, 200-pound redshirt freshman Bret Jefcoat, who’ll be looking to put some pressure on Young for the No. 2 job. A similar player to Davis, he’s a little undersized and doesn’t have a cannon, but he moves very well around the pocket and will do whatever is needed to make a play and move the chains.

Watch Out For… Davis to make another giant step in his progression as a quarterback. Hey, he arrived in Hattiesburg with a baseball offer, needing to walk on to the football team. He was hardly a finished product a year ago, but many of those rookie wrinkles have been ironed out over the offseason.
Strength: Mobility. Larry Fedora, who prefers mobile quarterbacks, has to be thrilled over what he inherited at the position. Davis, Young, and Jefcoat are all quality athletes with the quick feet and field vision to pull the ball down and take off for the chains.
Weakness: Arm strength. It’s a good thing that most of the routes in this offense are of the short and intermediate varieties because none of the quarterbacks are flame-throwers. Davis is clearly the best of the trio, but after him, the RPMs really drop off the radar.
Outlook: Fedora didn’t hand-pick Davis, but he must pinch himself that No. 12 landed in Hattiesburg. In just one season, he looks an ideal fit for an offense that demands its quarterbacks be athletic, accurate, and poised. Sure, Davis has work to do, especially in the area of accuracy, but considering what he did on the fly in his debut, he’s about to become the face of this program.
Rating: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starters: It looks as if 5-10, 177-pound senior Damion Fletcher will be reinstated after a rocky offseason and a suspension for gun-related charges. The offense needs him. One of the nation’s most productive backs over the last three seasons, he’s gobbled up 4,287 yards and 36 touchdowns on the ground to go along with 80 receptions for 615 yards and a score. A prototypical slasher, he has tremendous vision in the hole and almost never gets taken down behind the line of scrimmage. While not a gamebreaker, he’s a professional, intelligent runner, who gets the most out of every carry.

When the Golden Eagles shift into short-yardage formation and employ a fullback, 6-0, 220-pound junior Josh Hurd will be summoned from the bench. Strictly a lead blocker, he’s yet to touch the ball in his career.

Projected Top Reserves: In the event that Fletcher isn’t available or needs a breather, Southern Miss is in good shape with its depth. Senior Tory Harrison is a quality back, who’d start for some programs in Conference USA. A letterman in each of the last three years, he’s played a lot of football in Hattiesburg, carrying 53 times for 254 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago. A 6-1, 188-pounder with good acceleration, he’d have no problems assuming a bigger role if needed.

Running No. 3 on the depth chart is 5-10, 186-pound junior V.J. Floyd, who earned 59 carries for 246 yards and two touchdowns in his busiest season to date. Quicker than he is fast, he’ll dart through small cracks in the defense and make people miss when he gets into open space.

Once Fletcher and Harrison graduate, it’ll be worth remembering a 5-11, 188-pound redshirt freshman by the name of Desmond Johnson. He had the luxury of using last season to get bigger, stronger, and better acclimated to his surroundings. A patient and elusive runner, he got some SEC before choosing Southern Miss.

Watch Out For… the status of Fletcher. While all signs point to a return for the perennial all-star, until Larry Fedora gives the green light, nothing is official. As good as the passing attack was a year ago, he makes this offense purr, keeping the chains moving and defenses off balance.
Strength: Depth. Yeah, it all starts with No. 25, but after him, the Golden Eagles boast two backs who’d have no issues handling 15-20 carries a game. And once he gets his opportunity, Johnson might have the wiggle and burst to be another option on the ground.
Weakness: Power runners. It’s totally splitting hairs, but Southern Miss doesn’t have a real pile driver out of the backfield, who can barrel through the line of scrimmage and power into the end zone. At just 188 pounds, Harrison is the heaviest of the primary runners.
Outlook: When Fletcher is in the backfield, the Eagles have the top back in the league and one of the most underrated runners in America. Extremely efficient in his running style, he’ll frustrate defenses by consistently picking up six yards when it looks like he’s only gained three.
Rating: 8.5


Projected Starters: Hattiesburg will hold its collective breath until the fate of 6-6, 228-pound sophomore DeAndre Brown is known. The author of one of the best offensive seasons in school history finished his debut on a stretcher, courtesy of a gruesome broken leg suffered in the bowl game. Prior to that point he’d toyed with overmatched defensive backs, finishing with 67 catches for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns … just months out of high school. A long, lean thoroughbred, he’s able to glide past defenders or soar well above them on jump balls. He’s trying to make it back for the opener with Alcorn State but isn't expected to be 100% until after the season starts. Stay tuned.

As former walk-ons go, 6-0, 182 senior Gerald Baptiste has been a real gem for the Eagles, starting in each of the last two seasons. A year ago, he put up career numbers, finishing third on the team with 35 catches for 460 yards and two scores. He’s added some weight in the offseason in an effort to hold up against some of the league’s more physical defensive backs.

Senior Freddie Parham returns for a second season as a starter, looking to build on his debut out of East Central (Miss.) Community College. A flashy 6-0, 172-pounder, with ample speed to go the distance, he opened with 19 receptions for 173 yards, modest numbers for his physical ability. If the Eagles can get him isolated a little more often, he’s capable of blowing past last year’s output.

Junior Jonathan Massey will spend the season under the microscope as he tries to replace perennial all-star and current Buffalo Bill Shawn Nelson at tight end. He’s taken a circuitous route to Hattiesburg since being one of the top-rated tight ends in the country, making stops at Vanderbilt and Copiah-Lincoln Community College along the way. In the mold of many of today’s H-back, he’s a 6-3, 251-pounder with considerable upside as a pass-catcher.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Johdrick Morris will be looking to build on his bowl performance, a four-catch, 61-yard effort after Brown went down. Prior to that point, he was non-existent on offense. At 6-3 and 195 pounds, he has a nice combination of size and speed, which the coaching staff hopes can be parlayed into a production spike.

The Eagles will put a lot of faith in a pair of redshirt freshmen, 5-11, 163-pound Quentin Pierce and 6-3, 172-pound Jordan McNair. Pierce is a shifty receiver, with good wiggle, growing markedly from his first season on campus.

AAlthough McNair needs more polish as a pass-catcher, he has the length and game-breaking speed to be a playmaker early in his career. Even if he doesn’t get many balls thrown his way in 2009, he can be a factor on inside handoffs and end-arounds.

Watch Out For… JUCO All-American Justin Jordan. A product of Blinn (Tex.) Community College, he was hotly pursued by the likes of Cal, Arizona, and Utah, which loved his speed, leaping ability, and overall explosiveness. On a team seeking more playmakers at the position, he’s liable to fit right in.                
Strength: Athleticism. Over the last couple of years, the program has done a nice job of attracting quality athletes, who just happen to catch passes. From Brown at wide receiver and Massey at tight end, the Eagles have a bunch of field stretchers, who’ll pick up yards after the catch.
Weakness: Depth. In the spring, the Golden Eagles had problems filling out a two-deep, a concern that could trickle into the summer. The departures of Nelson, Torris Magee, and Ed Morgan mean the offense is going to rely on too many unproven players in the rotation.    
Outlook: The evaluation is in limbo until Brown’s prognosis is known. If he’s physically and mentally where he was before the injury, this is a solid unit that’ll burn most Conference USA defenses. If not, it’s a marginal group without a go-to guy.
Rating: 6

Offensive Line

Projected Starters
: Although much of last year’s two-deep returns intact, there’s a big hole at tackle that used to be filled by all-star Ryan McKee. In his place steps senior Kyle Burkhart, who got his first taste of FBS action last fall after transferring from Dodge City (Kans.) Community College. Although the 6-5, 275-pounder still needs to add some weight, he has a great motor and the athleticism to earn the nod at left tackle.

Adding weight will not be a problem for senior Calvin Wilson, Burkhart’s bookend at right tackle. He actually moves surprisingly well at 6-6 and 353 pounds, but would be far more nimble at, say 330 pounds. A former member of Mississippi State, he can be a real mauler in the running game, and has a shot at the next level if he can maintain his conditioning.

Back in the middle of the line for a second straight year is 6-1, 297-pound junior Cameron Zipp, who now has 13 career starts at center under his belt. A heady player and a quick study, his primary objective this offseason is to work on getting the ball to the quarterback without any incidents.   

The budding anchor on the right side of the line is senior G Ryan Hebert, an honorable mention All-Conference USA selection in his first year as a starter. At 6-5 and 310 pounds, he has the long arms of a tackle and the upper body strength to drive his man off the ball. With a full season of experience now behind him, he should be even more effective in his final year.

Although the program likes the upside of 6-2, 287-pound senior Micah Brown, he’ll need to remain healthy in order to realize that potential. A nasty blocker, who gets out to the second level in a hurry, he’s gained enough experience over the past few seasons to handle this promotion with few reservations.    

Projected Top Reserves: Versatile senior R.J. Brown has one more year of eligibility left to provide depth at both guard and center. A 2008 transfer from Jones County (Miss.) Community College, he quickly earned a spot in the rotation a year ago.

The coaching staff is keeping its fingers crossed that heavily-recruited Trevor Newsom can offer some competition and instant stability at left tackle. A first-year player out of Itawamba (Miss.) Community College, he’s 6-8 and 276-pound, with the lean frame to add more weight over the next two seasons.

Watch Out For… a flatter learning curve. Last year’s struggles, especially in pass protection, can be traced to the transition from a power running offense to the no-huddle spread. In Year 2, everyone hopes, blocking assignments should come a little more naturally than they did in 2008.
Strength: Run blocking. Hey, old habits are awfully tough to break. In this case, it’s not such a bad thing for an offense that has hardly abandoned the run. The Golden Eagles finished 24th nationally on the ground at a clip of almost 200 yards a game, largely due to the work of the blockers up front.
Weakness: Pass protection. Boy, did these guys struggle to protect the quarterback last fall, finishing 11th in Conference USA in sacks allowed. Although part of the blame goes on the shoulders of the rookie quarterback, no one doubts the line must do a better job in pass blocking.
Outlook: N: No, this unit is not going to dominate, but it should be much improved over last year when so much of the terminology and the schemes were foreign. There are enough veterans, provided some of the transfers deliver, to provide better support than a year ago.
Rating: 5