Sunday, August 21, 2022

Injuries dilute Furman's offensive line depth

Furman junior Evan Jumper (62), who's made 26 career starts at center,
 has seen time at left tackle this preseason. Photo courtesy of Furman

The preseason portion of Furman's August practice schedule wrapped up with a 40-minute scrimmage Saturday that capped the Paladins' annual Fan Day festivities. Coach Clay Hendrix said the team will begin its season practice routine on Monday, 10 days ahead of the Sept. 1 opener against North Greenville.

Preseason camp has seen plenty of reps for players throughout the roster, with quite a few seeing action at multiple positions. Nowhere has that been more evident than along the offensive line, which has likely been done out of design but also due to injuries. Most notable among the injuries up front are the losses of Gerrik Vollmer and Luke Petit for the season.

Vollmer, a 6-foot-5, 306-pound graduate transfer who's played at Virginia and Old Dominion, suffered a broken ankle in practice early in camp and has already had surgery to repair it. Petit, a 6-3, 285-pound redshirt freshman, wasn't hurt in practice but it was discovered that he had a meniscus issue in his knee that required surgery.

"Those two guys would've played a lot of football for us (this year). We still have a lot of core guys there and it's an opportunity for some other guys to step up," Hendrix said Saturday. "The good thing is some of it happened early enough in preseason that we've been able to rep a bunch of guys."

Furman's offensive line depth also took a hit with three departures this offseason. Sophomore Dylan Davis transferred to Illinois in April. December signees Maddox Epperson and Caleb Lyons, who each participated in summer drills at Furman, left the team before preseason camp opened.  

Five different Paladins have taken snaps at center this month, including four during Saturday's scrimmage. None of those four were junior Evan Jumper, who has 26 career starts at center. Instead, Jumper played exclusively left tackle on Saturday.

Redshirt freshman Ryan Lamb and sophomore Blake Hundley took most of Saturday's snaps at center. Hundley has played center, guard and tackle this preseason.

"One thing I'm impressed by with (new offensive line coach) Matt (McCuchan) is having a bunch of guys playing a lot of spots," Hendrix said. "You do that against our defense, it's a challenge because they give you a lot of different looks."

Senior offensive tackle Anderson Tomlin was held out of Saturday's scrimmage, but should be full go on Monday according to Hendrix.

Starting quarterback battle

Hendrix said the competition for the starting quarterback spot between sophomore Jace Wilson and Presbyterian graduate transfer Tyler Huff has been a good one.

It got off to a bumpy start on Saturday though. The first possession of the scrimmage ended on Hugh Ryan's interception of Huff's pass. The next possession ended when Wilson's deep throw into double coverage was picked off by Dae'one Wilkins. 

"There were a couple of bad throws," Hendrix said. "They've been pretty good in that regard most of the preseason, but also the defense gets a little credit on those too. We're a lot better at rushing the passer."

Later on in the scrimmage, Huff displayed good running ability including a 40-yard scramble for a touchdown.

"Watching tape before he got here, I knew he was a good athlete. He's probably a little faster than I thought he was though," Hendrix said. "He's just a confident, poised guy who's been a great fit.

"Both of those guys have really had some moments thus far. ... I've been really pleased with (freshman) Carson Jones too. He's got a bright future. (New offensive coordinator) Justin Roper's done a really good job of throwing those guys in there in the heat of the battle. That will be good for them."

New faces on special teams

You probably wouldn't expect to see an All-American tight end returning kickoffs, but you also don't see many tight ends with Ryan Miller's kind of speed. The fifth-year senior fielded kickoffs Saturday and given his proven ability at North-South running, he could be a boost to a unit that sorely needs it. Furman's finished last in the Southern Conference in kickoff return average each of the past three seasons.

"Just finding another way for him to touch the ball because he's pretty good with the ball in his hands," Hendrix said. "We want home run hitters back there."

Hendrix said two of the three kicking positions have been decided. Sophomore Ryan Leavy will be the starting punter, while N.C. State transfer Ian Williams will handle kickoffs. The 6-3, 225-pound Williams boomed several kickoffs into the back of the end zone on Saturday. The placekicker battle between Williams and sophomore Axel Lepvreau is still too close to call.

"I've looked at the numbers for the whole camp and it's crazy how similar they are," Hendrix said. "They've both got strong legs. We've tried to put them in tough situations and they've both responded pretty good."

Smith makes a splash

There weren't a ton of offensive fireworks in Saturday's scrimmage, but freshman running back Jayquan Smith had a few highlights. Smith accounted for the second-longest play of the day with a 30-yard touchdown run.

"Every time (Smith) touches it, he seems to have a pretty good run," Hendrix said. "Obviously, we feel really good about Dom(inic Roberto) - who's down to 231 (pounds) - and Devin Abrams. We also really like Smith and (redshirt freshmen) Myion Hicks and Grant Robinson. Hopefully we get Robinson back this week. He's missed a good bit of time with an ankle injury. Kendall Thomas has made a bunch of big plays too, which has been great. That's a pretty good group."

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