ATLANTA — “I’m excited about the direction of where we’re going as a football team and especially as an offense.”
Those are the words of Georgia State offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski as he helps guide the Panthers into their second season at the FBS level. Georgia State, which opens the season Aug. 27 vs. Abilene Christian, held its second day of preseason practice Saturday morning at the GSU Practice Complex.
“We feel really confident about where we are and where we’re going right now,” Jagodzinski said. “We’re going to be a much better football team as a collective group offensively than we were last year. Last year has nothing to do with where we’re going this year; it’s totally different.”
Jagodzinski is the former head coach at Boston College and a long-time National Football League assistant coach, including two stints with the Atlanta Falcons. While Jagodzinski is Georgia State’s offensive coordinator, he stressed that the offense is a collective effort from a group of talented, hard-working coaches.
“As far as working with the offensive staff, I’ve never worked with a group of guys that are as good at what they do collectively as where I am right now at Georgia State, and I’m very fortunate for that, having those type of guys surrounding myself as we go forward in this offense.”
Jagodzinski is one of two former NFL assistant coaches on Georgia State’s offensive staff, along with wide receivers coach Tim Lappano, who spent the last five years with the Detroit Lions. In 2013, Lappano coached the Lions’ wide receivers, including All-Pro Calvin Johnson.
The offensive staff also includes veteran offensive line coach Harold Etheridge, quarterbacks coach Luke Huard, a former offensive coordinator at Illinois State, and running backs coach Brock Lough, who played for GSU head coach Trent Miles at Indiana State.
Jagodzinski stressed that the Panthers have to run the football to be successful.
“We are going to try to be as balanced as we can,” he said. “We want to run the football here. We didn’t have an opportunity to do that last year as much as we wanted to. We’re better up front than we were last year. Our running backs are all back and we’re excited about what those guys can do. There’s going to be a lot of competition for that position, which is great. You want as much competition as can be. That’s what brings out the best in your players.”
The Panthers are working as many as five players at running back. Seniors Gerald Howse and Duvall Smith and sophomores Kyler Neal and Jonathan Jean-Bart return. True freshman Krysten Hammon, a 5-8, 180-pound speedster from Dickinson, Texas, adds a burst of speed that has been noticeable.
Although the Panthers have to replace ultra-productive wide receiver Albert Wilson, Jagodzinski is confident in the receiving corps, led by sophomore Robert Davis, who had 44 catches for 711 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie.
“We feel confident with the guys we have as a group now as far as wide receivers,” Jagodzinski said. “I think Robert Davis is going to be a huge plus for us. He went for over 700 yards last year as a true freshman.”
Davis, now 6-3 and 198 pounds, said that he focused on his work in the weight room in the offseason.
“I know I have to get stronger because I have to be a valuable option to this team,” the Warner Robins, Ga., native said. “I expect to see a little more attention at the beginning of the season, but I think we have a lot of great receivers and you can’t double everyone.”
The Panthers will count on senior LynQuez Blair, as well as juniors Nathaniel Minor and Donovan Harden, who are both coming off knee injuries. True freshmen could also figure prominently as Tevish Clark of Carver High School, Maaseiah Francis of Norcross High School and Glenn Smith of Warner Robins High School look to earn playing time.
When asked which of the freshmen to keep an eye on, naturally Davis was a little biased.
“I really like Glenn Smith. He came from my high school, but that’s not why I said that,” Davis said of his former high school quarterback. “He just really seems like a guy who can make plays.”
NOTING THE PANTHERS …
The GSU offense welcomes back three pass catchers who missed the 2013 season with knee injuries in junior wide receivers Nathaniel Minor and Donovan Harden and redshirt freshman tight end Bill Teknipp. All three are fully cleared for practice. Both Minor and Harden, a transfer from Illinois State, made nice catches during the team period. Teknipp, who played in the first three games of 2013 before undergoing surgery, excels at run-blocking.
True freshman quarterback Emiere Scaife of Charlotte N.C., is easy to spot because of his size (6-2, 218 pounds) and strong arm. He is also the first left-handed quarterback in Georgia State’s brief history.
ESPN football analyst and former NFL quarterback Brock Huard attended practice Saturday. He is the brother of Georgia State quarterbacks coach Luke Huard. Brock and Damon Huard both played quarterback at Washington and in the NFL, while Luke played at North Carolina before beginning his coaching career.