Friday, August 31, 2018

Paladins ready to open 2018 season

Furman senior captain Harris Roberts is slated to make his first
career start Saturday at Clemson. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Furman won't exactly be tipping its toes into the 2018 college football season Saturday afternoon. It's more like jumping right off into the deep end as the Paladins open with a road trip to FBS No. 2-ranked Clemson. It's the highest-ranked FBS opponent Furman has ever faced.

The last time the Paladins faced an opponent this highly rated was 30 years ago, when Furman's Division I-AA national championship team opened the season with a 23-3 loss at third-ranked Clemson.

With a stronger, faster team compared to last, Furman is ready to get the season started no matter the challenges it faces Saturday. Paladins coach Clay Hendrix hopes his team will play better than they did in their last meeting against an FBS foe, when Furman fell at N.C. State 49-16 last season. Like Clemson, N.C. State featured a very talented defensive line, but Hendrix said the challenge will be tougher Saturday, "from top to bottom."

"We've just got to go play as well as we can play and do the things that we can do," Hendrix said. "How big they are doesn't affect you taking a good first step, being where you're supposed to be and controlling what you can control.
"We've got to play hard. We like to think we play a pretty physical style and that's the way we have to play."

Despite missing time in preseason camp with a hand injury, fifth-year senior captain Harris Roberts has earned the starting nod at quarterback Saturday. It will be the first career start for Roberts, who has made national headlines with his unique story of playing football for Furman while attending classes at Clemson as a full-time engineering student. His story will be featured on ESPN's College GameDay show, which airs Saturday starting at 9 a.m.

As for how much Roberts plays, that's still an unknown given the practice he's missed in the preseason. Redshirt freshman JeMar Lincoln is Roberts' backup, while true freshman Darren Grainger and Hamp Sisson are No. 3 and 4 on the depth chart, respectively. It's a pretty safe bet that one of the reserve quarterbacks will play Saturday, but all three could.

"We have little to no experience at that (quarterback) position. I like the kids we have there. I think they're going to be good players, but just how quickly that can happen, I don't know," Hendrix said. "I think their supporting cast is much better than P.J.'s supporting cast a year ago. I think these guys around them have a little better chance to help them.
"I think we're just better everywhere."

While the biggest challenge Saturday for Furman could be blocking Clemson's defensive front, the Paladins' defense faces a big challenge as well. The group has more experience overall than the offense, but is still a young unit.

"When we've had success in these games, it's always been when our defense had a chance to play well or match up," Hendrix said. "If they can't, I don't think you can ever score enough points."

Hendrix said he anticipates at least three quarterbacks playing Saturday. That won't be the only position with a heavy rotation.

"We plan on playing a bunch of guys (overall). We feel like we've got some depth that we haven't had since I've been here," Hendrix said. "This game isn't going to make us or break us, but I think we will find out a little about ourselves."

Starting the season with Clemson, Elon and Colgate offers Furman a few chances to find out a lot more about themselves ahead of Southern Conference play. The Paladins first SoCon game is Sept. 22 at ETSU.

"Ultimately, we want to win our conference championship which gives us a chance to play for the national championship," Hendrix said. "You would think by the time we play a conference game, we have a chance to be a pretty seasoned grouped."

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Depth chart revealed after final scrimmage

Furman kicker Grayson Atkins is likely to handle punting and
kickoff duties as well this season. Photo courtesy of Furman.
The Furman football team wrapped up preseason portion of its practice schedule with an officiated, no-tackling scrimmage Wednesday at Paladin Stadium. The Paladins are now in game-week preparation in advance of their opener at Clemson on Sept. 1.

Head coach Clay Hendrix was pleased overall with what was accomplished in camp. Perhaps most importantly, the Paladins made it through "fairly healthy" according to Hendrix.

"Even day that we've been allowed to wear shoulder pads, we've worn them except once. And every day we wear shoulder pads we do inside drills, so it's been a physical camp," Hendrix said. "I think we're in great condition.
"We're not as fresh as we need to be, but if you're fresh and not in very good shape it doesn't matter. We will be fresh when we get ready to go play."

Following the short scrimmage, which was more situation-oriented as opposed to game-like, Hendrix announced the depth chart. The question many are wondering is still sort of in question as senior Harris Roberts and redshirt freshman JeMar Lincoln are listed with the "or" designation between them as the starting quarterback.

Obviously, Roberts has the most experience at quarterback. Backing up P.J. Blazejowski last season, Roberts completed 9-of-13 passes for 110 yards and ran five times for 71 yards. Roberts' status has been day-to-day though as he recovers from an hand injury suffered last week in practice. Roberts didn't participate in Wednesday's scrimmage.

Lincoln was part of Wednesday's long play of the scrimmage when he faked a pitch to the left, rolled to his right, and hit freshman Dejuan Bell on a screen pass that went for a gain of about 35 yards.

Freshmen Darren Grainger and Hamp Sisson are listed third and fourth, respectively, on the QB depth chart. Sisson has caught the attention of coaches with an impressive preseason camp. With a 6-foot-4 frame, Grainger stands out on the field. His quick acceleration and sharp, hard passes are also noticeable.

Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach George Quarles said the competition is still open. Even when it's closed, there likely will be opportunities for others to contribute.

"If you had to play a game right now, we'd have to play several (quarterbacks). It wouldn't be just one," Quarles said following Wednesday's scrimmage. "You're waiting for one guy to just say 'hey, it's mine. I'm taking over.' So far that hasn't happened, but all of them do something really well. You've got to find that guy that does the most things well.
"We're really happy with them and moving in the right direction. ... The style we want to play may require you to play more than one."

Atkins' duties likely to grow
After earning Southern Conference All-Freshman team honors at placekicker last season, Grayson Atkins is likely to have a much bigger role this season. In addition to kicker, Atkins is listed atop the depth chart at punter and kickoff.

On the first drive of Wednesday's scrimmage, Atkins got off a high punt of 50-plus yards that was fair caught at the six-yard line. Later, Atkins boomed a 50-yard field goal with plenty to spare. During two-minute drills in which the kicking team rushed onto the field and quickly snapped the ball, Atkins missed wide left on a 52-yard attempt and made a 48-yarder to wrap up the scrimmage.

"If we played tomorrow, he'd do everything and I'd feel good about it," Hendrix said. "Grayson's been really solid for us."

The lone other score of the scrimmage came on a a six-yard touchdown run by Devin Wynn on an option pitch from Lincoln. Lincoln then threw to tight end Jake Walker for the "two-point" conversion.

Wynn and Bell are listed as the kickoff returners, while Clemson transfer Amir Trapp is expected to start at punt returner and right cornerback. Wynn is also penciled in as the No. 2 tailback behind starter Darius Morehead.

Depth chart notes
In addition to Walker at tight end, the rest of the starting offensive front - per the current depth chart is left tackle Bo Layton, left guard Jacob Conrad, center Reed Kroeber, right guard Jordan Harris and right tackle Andy Godwin. ... Cam Burnette is listed as the starting split end receiver.

Nine of last year's starters return on defense, although Chinedu Okonya - who had a team-high 4.5 sacks last season - and Dru Seabrook - who had two sacks in limited action in 2017 - are listed with the "or" designation as starting defensive end. ... Junior Donavan Perryman "or" freshman Braden Gilby should start at middle linebacker. ... Jordan Willis, who posted 33 tackles as a reserve last season, is penciled in as the starting spur.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Hendrix unhappy with Paladins' scrimmage

Furman football coach Clay Hendrix (photo courtesy of Furman)
In a matter of a couple hours Saturday, the mood surrounding the Furman football team went from "only two weeks to go until the season begins" to "thank goodness there's still two weeks to go until the season begins."

The Paladins held their first officiated scrimmage of the preseason Saturday at Paladin Stadium. Their performance was one that coach Clay Hendrix hopes to never see any other Saturday.

"We looked dead," Hendrix said. "We just don't have enough guys playing up to the level that we need to play at.
"We've had a good camp up until today. It just wasn't very good today."

Senior quarterback Harris Roberts was held out of Saturday's scrimmage after injuring this throwing hand when it collided with a helmet this week in practice. That allowed for Hendrix and his staff to get a bigger look at the three freshmen who took snaps Saturday, along with junior Reese Vita.

Hamp Sisson opened the scrimmage with the rest of the starting offense and rotated series with redshirt freshman JeMar Lincoln for much of the afternoon. Sisson, who Hendrix said had a great week of practice, struggled a bit Saturday but did connect on a deep throw to Thomas Gordon. Gordon's 61-yard reception set up a six-yard touchdown run by Deon Sanders.

Quarterbacks were ruled down by touch which brought an early end of some of Lincoln's runs, but he flashed some speed and completed all four of his passes for 38 yards. On his first series, Lincoln guided the Paladins into field goal range but Grayson Atkins' 48-yard attempt into the wind was no good.

Freshman Darren Grainger later led the offense down the field and Atkins capped the drive with a 36-yard field goal. The lone other score of the day was an eye opener. Grainger showed a great initial burst of speed on a read option that he kept and toted 52 yards for a touchdown.

"Right now on offense, we just don't have any leadership," Hendrix said. "We don't have very many old guys at all and it just kind of showed today."

As with any intrasquad scrimmage, the flip side of one group struggling is the opposite group shining. Furman's defensive front controlled the line of scrimmage Saturday and the defense came up with three turnovers, including interceptions by Bryan Okeh and Quandarius Weems.

"I thought defensively, we did some good things. What concerns me is we don't have enough second-line guys stepping up," Hendrix said. "We can't play with just 11 or 12 guys. We've got to develop a little more depth over there."

Hendrix said the team will try to use the tape of Saturday's scrimmage to fix their mistakes. He's confident they will.

"We had a great offseason," Hendrix said. "We put way too much work in to go perform like we did today."

The Paladins will wrap up preseason camp on Thursday before beginning game week preparation for the season opener Sept. 1 at Clemson. Furman will hold another officiated scrimmage Wednesday at 9 a.m.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Stronger Paladins open 2018 football practice

Furman senior noseguard Jaylan Reid is one of 15 returning
starters for the Paladins in 2018. Photo courtesy of Furman.
For more casual observers of the Furman football program, the biggest question entering the 2018 season is obvious - "who's the quarterback?" That question is a given following the graduation of P.J. Blazejowski, who led the Paladins' big-play offense to a Southern Conference-best average of 32.6 points per game last season.

But for head coach Clay Hendrix, his biggest question might be, "are the Paladins stronger this season?" Strength development was perhaps the biggest goal this past offseason as Hendrix said he felt his team was exposed at some points last season. He specifically pointed to that following Furman's season-ending loss at Wofford in the second round of last year's FCS playoffs. With his first full offseason as head coach under his belt, Hendrix is pleased with the Paladins' physical improvement.

"Our hard work in the offseason has paid off. We're a different looking group," Hendrix said following Furman's first practice of the fall season Monday night. "We just had a lot of immature bodies (last season).
"People talk about all the kids we've got coming back and we did have a lot of kids that played (last season), but we're still a really young football team. If we played tomorrow, we might only start three or four seniors."

Hendrix was particularly pleased to see the condition that his players were in after reporting back to campus on Sunday.

"We're in phenomenal condition. We had our kids here in June and they were in good shape, but then they leave and you don't really see them in July," Hendrix said. "We've got a couple guys that have to get with it, but we're in really good shape overall."

While the Paladins are stronger as a group, there's a difference between strength and football strength. The latter is part of what Furman's continuing to develop the rest August leading up to the season opener Sept. 1 at Clemson. Hendrix said Monday was a typical opening practice, which was welcomed.

"We had lots of energy and enthusiasm," Hendrix said. "I told them I've never been part of team that didn't have lots of enthusiasm on the first day of practice.
"We've just got to keep improving each day and creating a little bit of our identity."

Roster changes
Monday saw the opportunity for some Paladins to continue to work in what will be new roles for the 2018 season. Most notably is Dillon Vann, who's switched from the bandit linebacker spot to tight end. Furman got a taste of what Vann can do catching and running last year with a couple of nice interception returns. He's part of a group competing to replace Furman's top big-play threat in 2017 in Andy Schumpert.

Others on the move this season include DiMarcus Clay - from cornerback to safety, Davonta Porter - from safety to outside linebacker, Donavan Perryman - from outside to inside linebacker, 2017 Freshman All-American Reed Kroeber - from offensive guard to center and Jordan Harris - from defensive tackle to offensive guard.

Other changes from the spring roster include the departures of veteran linebacker/safety Joe Farrar, as well as offseason transfers Melton Brown and Cooper Hardin. Brown left school to pursue a career in law enforcement while Hardin had "some medical things that he needed to go take care of and he's trying to do that," according to Hendrix.

"I think if you ask any guy on our team, there's no doubt about what we expect. If you don't uphold those standards, you lose that privilege of being with us. It's pretty simple," Hendrix said. "Joe was a good player for us. The great thing about it is that he's taking care of business and needs only a couple of classes to graduate."

Practice schedule
Monday was the first of 15 preseason practices scheduled for this month before Furman goes into its weekly season mode. The preseason schedule is highlighted by a scrimmage at Paladin Stadium set for Saturday, Aug. 18 at 12:15 p.m. Later that same day, Furman's annual Fan Fest will be held at Fluor Field in downtown Greenville. The event will be held from 5:30 p.m.-7 p.m.. preceding the Greenville Drive's game against the Hickory Crawdads at 7:05.