There wasn’t much offense to speak of during Coastal Carolina’s annual spring game Saturday, and junior wide receiver Chris Jones wanted to do his part to help with that before he and the rest of the Chanticleers’ regulars were pulled off the field.
Knowing that time was coming soon and given one shot at the end zone, Jones made a great play on a fade route into the right corner while skying over cornerback Samson Baldwin to haul in a 12-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tyler Keane.
“I wanted to make a play for the team and it was coming up to my last rep so it was either make a play or go to the sideline without making a play, and I wanted to make the game more exciting because it was a little drawn out today,” Jones said. “I did what I had to do and hopefully made it more exciting for the fans.”
Jones’ touchdown grab was indeed one of the few highlights, but that’s nothing unusual as the Chants typically rest a significant number of players and are cautious not to expose their key starters to injury risks on the final day of spring practice.
In fact, neither of the team’s top two contenders for the open starting quarterback job were active Saturday as redshirt-freshman Chance Thrasher and sophomore Josh Stilley were both limited throughout spring practice due to injuries.
Thrasher had surgery in the fall to clean up bone chips in his shoulder and is being eased back slowly while Stilley cracked a bone in his foot prior to winter workouts. Both guys did some throwing over the last few weeks in non-contact drills and one-on-one passing opportunities and will be ready to compete for the job in August.
In the meantime, Keane, the junior out of Myrtle Beach High School, and redshirt-freshman Austin Bradley handled the quarterback duties Saturday.
Keane finished 7-of-15 passing for 41 yards, one touchdown and one interception while Bradley was 8-of-13 for 58 yards.
“It was that way at a lot of positions so I think the great thing for our young guys is they got a lot of exposure, they got a lot of opportunities to show what they can do and they got a lot of reps,” offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “For the growth of the program overall, the young guys have gotten a lot better. … In modern football now you’re not just going to let guys loose and bang people around. You just can’t get guys hurt. It was a good learning experience for the young guys, [but] the older guys got a lot of mental reps because they had to coach the younger guys.
“A lot of the guys out there today were walk-ons so they were in back of them, teaching them and staying engaged. But it will be fun to hit that first day of camp and get all of our guys back.”
Star senior running back De’Angelo Henderson got a little action, rushing for 21 yards in seven carries, and junior tight end A.J. Sattinger led the way with three catches for 21 yards.
As for Jones, who emerged last season with 33 catches for 604 yards and four touchdowns, he hopes to make plenty more end zone catches like the one he had Saturday when it counts this fall.
“Most definitely, I hope to make way more plays than I did last season and hopefully become the top guy here at Coastal,” he said.
Said Keane of that touchdown connection: “I mean, I saw him one-on-one and when you’ve got Chris one-on-one you’ve got to give him a chance. That’s what I did and he made a good play.”
Meanwhile, Keane said he felt he progressed significantly this spring while getting a greater opportunity to run the offense, and Patenaude was complimentary of both quarterbacks who filled in this last month.
“I think both of the two guys that played really matured, especially Austin Bradley as a true freshman. I think he made a statement that down the line he could be a player here,” he said.
On defense, senior safety Richie Sampson tied sophomore linebacker Fitz Wattley for the team-lead with five tackles and notched an interception.
“One of the things I said to the stands during the game is the spring game is difficult for me because I’m watching our offense against our defense, and when the offense is doing something well I worry about the breakdowns we had on defense and the same thing would be true the other [way],” said head coach Joe Moglia, who addressed fans over the stadium speakers throughout the event.
“I thought we had some good work. I don’t think we had too many plays for our first and second units. I think we gave everybody a chance to get stuff done. We don’t have a lot of guys injured, but we have 10 or 12 guys banged up a little bit, so we didn’t want to use them at all. But we’ve got to look at the film.”
There looked to be several hundred people in the crowd Saturday, and Moglia was especially pleased that the Chants had a large contingent of recruits/prospects on campus for the day.
“Last year I think may have been the most prospects we’ve ever had and it was about 40 people, and today we had like 150 recruits/prospects. So that was good,” he said.
Sampson shines on defense
It wasn’t a real game, of course, but Saturday was an encouraging performance nonetheless for Sampson.
The senior safety has missed the last season and a half after reinjuring the labrum in his shoulder during the 2014 season and taking a redshirt last fall. He has said that he feels all the way back, though, and is eager to finish strong in 2016.
And to that end, getting that interception Saturday was hopefully a preview of what’s to come.
“It was good to get that out of the way early. I just kind of broke on it, Keane left it up there a little bit for me and it just kind of fell in my hands,” Sampson said. “It was good, though, it was fun. I was pretty anxious the whole time and it was good to get it out of my system. …
“Hopefully I’ll get an interception every game. Probably won’t happen, but yeah, it’s just good to hit a little bit even though we went ‘thud,’ get the ball in my hands a little bit. It was just fun being out with the team and all my buddies I didn’t get to be out with last season.”
The Chants’ first-teamers didn’t tackle to the ground Saturday, instead stopping the play on contact, or “thud.” Sampson said he’s tested his shoulder a little bit this spring, but the true evaluation of how it responds to contact will come this summer.
“I got a couple live reps in a scrimmage earlier and it felt good, I hit in thud a little bit today and it feels good. I won’t really know until the fall, but all signs are pointing to a pretty good feeling,” he said. “… I’m really excited for this offseason to build on what I’ve [done] this last year and all spring.”
A name to know
Asked who impressed him this spring, Patenaude talked about the improvement he’s seen from 6-foot-2 sophomore tight end Miguel Valdes.
A walk-on who redshirted in 2014 and did not play in any games last season, he had two catches for 20 yards Saturday and could emerge as an option on both offense and special teams.
“He was a fullback in high school. He’s done a great job in the weight room, has put on about 30 pounds and is up to about 255,” Patenaude said. “Really good ball skills, has always been a good athlete, but has really just put it together with regard to understanding what he’s doing and technique. That will give us some good depth.”
QB GoPros add to evaluation for coaches
The Coastal Carolina quarterbacks had GoPro cameras attached to their helmets Saturday, as they have most of the spring.
The coaching staff reviews the footage from the cameras as another tool in evaluating the players’ decision-making and performance.
“It gives me a great look into where he’s looking, where his eyes go,” Patenaude said. “Is he looking at the right read? Do his eyes go from front side to back side? Does he look off the safety if he’s trying to throw the ball in the seam backside? If we’re running a lot of our read plays, are his eyes in the right spot? That type of thing. So it’s just another teaching tool to be able to use. What we ended up doing is placing our wide [angle video], our tight [shots] and the GoPro together for all the quarterbacks to be able to go back and forth. It’s been a great teaching tool.”
Said Keane: “I think it’s helped a lot. Coaches can see where we’re looking and which direction we’re looking and reading. That’s really what we’ve been looking at on film. We’ll watch the play on the GoPro and then we’ll watch the wide view so we can see it from different angles.”