ATLANTA — Before Georgia State officially begins preseason preparations for its second FBS season, second-year head coach Trent Miles and the Panthers met with the media to discuss the upcoming season.
The Panthers reported for camp today and will hit the practice field for the first time Friday at 9:45 a.m. at the GSU Practice Complex.
“We have more experience. Our kids are bigger, stronger and faster. They have a better understanding of what we’re asking them to do, from a scheme standpoint” Miles said at Thursday’s press conference.
“We are getting leadership from Joseph Peterson, A.J. Kaplan, Sean Jeppesen, Nick Arbuckle. And we’re still developing more leaders, guys like Keith Rucker, Joel Ruiz and others,” he continued. “And I’m sure there will be some pleasant surprises who develop.”
The Panthers gained valuable experience last fall in Miles’ first season and the program’s first year at the FBS level, but youth is still very evident on the roster.
Georgia State played 15 true freshmen a year ago, and as sophomores, many of those players step into even more prominent roles, led by top returning wide receiver Robert Davis and top returning defensive lineman Shawayne Lawrence.
“I think Shawayne is shaving now,” Miles quipped of Lawrence, who did not turn 18 years old until the final week of the 2013 season, when he started 11 games at defensive end. Now 270 pounds, Lawrence is the focal point on all-sophomore defensive front, playing with noseguard Jalen Lawrence and defensive end Tevin Jones. Outside linebacker Mackendy Cheridor is another sophomore starter in the front seven.
The progress that the Panthers make this preseason will be on display for the nation to see as Georgia State plays the country’s first FBS game on Wednesday, Aug. 27 vs. Abilene Christian. The game kicks off at 7 p.m. at the Georgia Dome and will be nationally televised on ESPNU.
“It’s an advantage that we’re the first game of the season,” Miles said. “That gets us on ESPNU. We get a chance to have a national presence and people get a chance to see the product that we’re putting out there. The students will be on campus, so hopefully we will have a good crowd. Those are all positives.”
Miles said he looks for the improvement on offense to begin up front, where the Panthers have rebuilt their offensive line with three junior college transfers who are expected to start. Michael Ivory and Steve Wolgamott man the left and right tackle positons, respectively, and Taylor Evans could start at center or guard. The top returnee is senior left guard A.J. Kaplan.
“We’re bigger,” Miles said. “I think we have more continuity. Last year, we played with five different centers. If we can stay healthy, I think we’ll have better continuity up front. Anytime you have the same guys out there competing all the time and getting to know each other and what they’re thinking, then you have a better chance to be productive.
“We have to run the ball better,” Miles continued. “We don’t have a choice. We have to go out and establish a run game to take some pressure off of our receivers and the quarterback. It’s hard to go out there when you’re one-dimensional, or last year, we should’ve called it Albert Wilson-dimensional. We don’t have that luxury this year so we have to go out and establish a run game to be as balanced as we can be and keep our defense off the field as much as we can.”
At the quarterback position, junior Ronnie Bell returns after passing for a GSU-record 2,573 yards and 15 touchdowns, but he was edged in the spring by Arbuckle, the junior college transfer. The competition will resume in the preseason, with true freshman Emiere Scaife, a 6-2, 218-pounder from Charlotte, N.C., joins the fray.
Arbuckle passed for nearly 7,000 yards and 73 touchdowns in two seasons at Pierce (Calif.) College, and as Miles noted, he also brings intangibles.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski seconded that notion, saying that Arbuckle, “had instant credibility for the success he had as a junior college quarterback, and he came in right away the first week and started watching film with the offensive guys. He brought that to our football team immediately.
But Jagodzinski looks forward to the competition at the position.
“Ronnie Bell did a nice job for what we had,” Jagodzinski said. He threw for 2,500 yards, but we had one wide receiver (Albert Wilson, now with the Kansas City Chiefs) and our run game wasn’t good. So he was put in position where he had to try to make some plays that weren’t there. And I’m excited to see Emiere Scaife. We’re expecting a good competition.”