Patrick Magee

Southern Miss D has plenty up for grabs as spring begins

Darian Yancey, Ja'Boree Poole and Xavier Thigpen of Southern Miss converge on Savannah State quarterback T.J. Bell on Sept. 10, 2016, in Hattiesburg.
Darian Yancey, Ja'Boree Poole and Xavier Thigpen of Southern Miss converge on Savannah State quarterback T.J. Bell on Sept. 10, 2016, in Hattiesburg. File

Spring finally arrives for the Southern Miss football team Tuesday and quarterback won’t be the only position dealing with uncertainty.

USM head coach Jay Hopson took the time Friday to talk about some of the battles that will be ongoing throughout the spring. The spring game is set for April 22.

At quarterback, he knows he has two men to watch — redshirt junior Kwadra Griggs and sophomore Keon Howard. There’s reason to be concerned about the lack of experience of those two options, but Hopson likes how both players have responded in preparations for the spring.

“Both guys have worked really hard in the offseason,” he said. “I think both of them are very talented young men. I’m very excited, anxious to see them work.”

Though it’s a simple two-way battle at quarterback, there’s a much more complex picture across the board on defense.

On the edges

At one defensive end, Xavier Thigpen and Darian Yancey offer plenty of experience with both men playing in all 27 games over the last two seasons. The two players Hopson listed at the other spot, redshirt sophomore Paxton Schrimsher and Allen Fails, haven’t seen a lot of playing time.

Redshirt freshman Jacques Turner, a D’Iberville native, will have his shot to move up the depth chart in his first spring at defensive end.

“I’m really excited to watch him this spring,” Hopson said. “Two of the young defensive linemen, Jacques and (Demarrio) Smith, I’m anxious to watch how they do this spring.”

Smith, a 6-foot-2, 270-pound defensive tackle, played in 11 games last year, registering one sack and five tackles total. He will look to provide depth inside where senior Draper Riley and junior LaDarius Harris offer plenty of starting experience and Rod Crayton played in 10 games last season.

With the addition of 6-foot-4, 308-pound junior college transfer Delmond Landry at defensive tackle, Hopson is confident the Golden Eagles will be a much bigger group up front on defense.

He knew that was an area his staff had to upgrade through recruiting.

“It’s going to help getting some big guys inside,” he said. “We’ll have to get some guys in there and let them battle.”

New names at LB

Though Elijah Parker and C.J. Perry have graduated as starting linebackers, USM has options in the corps. Among the players Hopson talked about Friday were redshirt freshman Racheem Boothe, redshirt sophomore Jeremy Sangster, senior Evan Osborne and redshirt sophomore Isaiah Spencer.

Senior Sherrod Ruff has a good chance to start in the fall, but Hopson said he may miss a chunk of the spring while recovering from an unspecified injury.

Hopson will also have to find two new starters at safety, but former Pearl River Community College standout Tarvarius Mooore, a senior, seems on pace to be the man at one spot. He played in all 13 games last season, making 17 tackles and two interceptions.

“I’m excited about him,” Hopson said. “He should have a big spring. He’s long, tall, athletic. He’s got big upside. He’s a guy that can play on that next level.”

Senior Picasso Nelson Jr. could easily shift from the nickel to safety, but Hopson isn’t sure where he’ll fit in at the moment.

“I was originally going to move him back to safety, but he’s had a nagging groin injury,” Hopson said. “I don’t how much of the spring he’ll get in. That’s the thing I’m sitting here debating now. I don’t know if we’ll move him if he doesn’t get a lot of spring work.”

The one area not up for debate this spring will be at the two cornerbacks where two senior starters return — Trae Collins and Cornell Armstrong.

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee