Enjoy the Little Things.
We are currently inside 60 days till the start of the 2020 college football season. While the world seems like it is burning all around us, little things have kept me going during these tumultuous times. My “little things” have been a mixture of family time, eating my way into an at-risk category, and the faint distant hope that college football might be on the horizon. Kaptain Klak’s countdown to the 2020 season on Twitter has been keeping me going.
While this upcoming football season will look completely different than any other season we’ve witnessed, going back until at least World War II, football is football. Of course, there is a possibility that it does not happen at all. After all, the Ivy League has canceled its season. But I will exercise a bit of cognitive dissonance and block all that out and plow ahead. I simply cannot let that negativity enter my brain cavity.
So after taking the month of June off, three family vacations later, let’s continue with our position group preview. This time we’re going to examine the hogs upfront.
Georgia Southern, like any team with a run-first offense, goes the way its offensive line goes. If the line doesn’t block, the whole team doesn’t function properly. If the run game can’t get going, the offense isn’t on the field long, the defense gets tired, the team falls behind, and the offense can’t catch back up. So when the 2019 offense struggled (118th in yards per game, 109th in yards per play), the line received its fair share of criticism. After the 23-16 Cure Bowl loss to Liberty, that criticism boiled over.
Eagle fans are used to explosive offenses, but explosive plays were hard to come by last year. Three-and-outs were common. There were flashes of brilliance (New Mexico St, ULM, Georgia State), but they were far and few between. The offense was not fun to watch for vast stretches of the season.
But when you zoom out and consider what the offensive line and the team as a whole went through off the field, it starts to make a lot more sense. No position group went through more tumult in 2019 than the offensive line. It began with the freak hip injury to starting RT Brian Miller in training camp, widely considered the best blocker on the team. Then there was the retirement of starting C Jakob Cooper due to concussions and his replacement by walk-on Peyton Backer. Losing Aaron Dowdell for the last six games to a foot injury. Worst of all, there was the incredibly tragic death of Jordan Wiggins in October. This doesn’t even take into account the Werts injury and Kennedy suspension either.
The whole season was a roller coaster. Unlike any other position group, the line relies on teamwork, chemistry, and continuity to flourish. That simply wasn’t possible last year. When I took a step back after that loss to Liberty and examined all that went on, it’s impressive that the team got as far as they did.
You might call me crazy for saying this, but I am optimistic about the OL in 2020. On paper, the unit is significantly deeper than it was last season. The only significant losses it experienced in the offseason were Jake Edwards and Peyton Backer. Quality depth was added in the form of Teva Reynolds, Logan Langemeier, and Rasheed Miller. Best of all, Brian Miller looks to be making a smooth recovery.
The health of Brian Miller’s hip is the biggest question hanging over the offensive line in 2020. Though the injury was of the freak/non-contact variety, hip injuries in football are no joke (see Bo Jackson, Priest Holmes, and Tua Tagovailoa for reference). In 2018, as a redshirt freshman Miller, a converted defensive lineman, surprisingly, emerged out of camp as the starting RT. He quickly established himself as a dominating presence on the right side of the line. If Miller can play and return to his 2018 form, it drastically changes the expectations of what the Eagles offense can be in 2020.
But let’s set aside Miller, for now, we’ll come back to him. Like all other position groups, the coaching staff released a depth chart after an abbreviated spring practice. Here it is.
LT: Caleb Kelly 6-2, 295, r-Jr.
Jawaski Webb 6-2, 285, r-Sr.
LG: Aaron Dowdell 6-4, 305, r-Sr.
Griffin Carder 6-4, 295, r-Fr.
C: Teva Reynolds 6-1, 280, So.
Alex Smith 6-4, 290, r-Sr.
RG: Lawrence Edwards 6-6, 305, r-Sr.
Aaron Pyron 6-4, 305, r-Fr.
RT: Drew Wilson 6-4, 305, r-Sr. -or-
Jarrod Leeds 6-4, 290, r-Jr.
Logan Langemeier 6-4, 285, Jr.
Others: Brian Miller 6-3 300, r-Jr., Verneal Henshaw Jr. 6-4 280, r-Fr., Khalil Crowder 6-1 310, R-So., Rasheed Miller 6-6 260, Fr., Caelan Williams 6-7 315, Fr., Trace Dorminy 6-4 260, R-Fr., Lawson Maxwell 6-3 250, R-Fr.
Losses: Peyton Backer, Jake Edwards.
The one thing you can say for sure about the hogs upfront this year is that they have plenty of experience. There are five seniors and four juniors on the roster, eight guys who have played in at least five games or more in Eagle blue. There is a good bit of versatility as well, several of the guys listed here have played multiple positions. Caleb Kelly alone has played center, guard, and tackle during his time as an Eagle.
Also, two quality transfers were added in the offseason: Logan Langemeier and Teva Reynolds. Langemeier started 18 games for the Jacksonville Dolphins at tackle before the program shut down last winter. The Dolphins ran an option offense, which made Georgia Southern a natural destination for him. Look for Langemeier to provide depth at both tackle spots.
Teva Reynolds is a junior college transfer from Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California. There are high hopes for the Hawaiian to slide right in and become the starting center. He enrolled in January and has bulked up from 265 to 280 lbs since stepping on campus. Hopefully, Reynolds provides some stability at an important position. Backing him up is senior Alex Smith, who hasn’t played much in his four years on the team but is highly intelligent and has slimmed down in the offseason.
Aaron Dowdell and Lawrence Edwards, a duo of seniors, are expected to start on the left and right sides at the guard spots. Dowdell missed the last six games of 2019 due to a foot injury but is fully healed and really stood out during the shortened spring practice. Edwards has played in 26 games over the past two seasons, including 13 starts. He brings stability to RG. Behind those two, Griffin Carder, Aaron Pyron, and Khalil Crowder are waiting in the wings to take over in 2021 and beyond.
At tackle, there are a lot more questions. There are plenty of guys who can play, and plenty of experience, the problem is figuring out where it all fits. Drew Wilson was the Mayo Clinic National Comeback Player of the Year in 2019 after overcoming a detached retina that nearly ended his career. Wilson is the vocal leader of this group, with 29 starts under his belt. There’s no question he’ll start at RT. But what happens at RT if Brian Miller is healthy? Does he move to the left? Or Jarrod Leeds, who started 9 games last year, where does he fit? Caleb Kelly is a swiss army knife, where does he fit? Or Logan Langemeier? Or Jawaski Webb? Don’t even get me started on Verneal Henshaw Jr., Rasheed Miller, or Caelan Williams.
In a perfect world, Wilson would start at RT, and a healthy Miller would start at LT. A Miller-Dowdell-Reynolds-Edwards-Wilson line is the best combination of talent and experience, with quality depth Kelly, Leeds, Webb, and Langemeier to provide security. This will be the position battle to watch when (if) training camp ever occurs. Prayers up.