Two weeks into spring football workouts, S.C. State head coach Buddy Pough sees progress with his team, but he is still trusting that two plus two will equal four.
More specifically, he hopes that two new coordinators plus too many unproven, fresh-faced redshirt freshmen to name in various positions on the depth chart will equal four quarters of good football each game the Bulldogs play come this fall.
Bennett Swygert is the new offensive coordinator, while Na'Shan Goddard is the new offensive line coach. And, although there hasn't been an official announcement, Jonathan Saxon has been promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator, in his fifth season on staff.
Saxon is a former standout offensive lineman at Orangeburg-Wilkinson and at S.C. State (helping the Bulldogs to three consecutive Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles in 2008-10). He was an assistant coach at Louisville prior to returning to the Bulldogs program in 2014. In 2013, Saxon helped with the Cardinals defense that led the nation in in sacks (3.31 per game; 43 sacks in 13 games), total defense (251.5 yards per game) and rushing defense (80.7 ypg.).
Saxon also worked closely with two-time former S.C. State DC Tommy Restivo, who just left the program this off-season to join Charlie Strong's South Florida coaching staff. Their defenses with the Bulldogs have been ranked among the nation's best in recent seasons.
However, many of the top proven defensive players have now graduated, including five of last year's top 10 tacklers (linebackers Darius Leonard and Dayshawn Taylor, defensive backs Devondre Powell and Jason Baxter, and defensive end Greg Newell).
"Coach Saxon, right now, is our defensive coordinator," Pough said on Friday. "The plan is to bring in another defensive coach to help out this summer, heading into the fall, if we determine that is what we need to fill out the staff.
"This happened to me, years ago, when I was named defensive coordinator here. So, I was looking for a young, up-and-coming guy, and I want him to get through the spring handling the job. It's pretty obvious that he is ready for this role. Also, I didn't feel comfortable considering bringing in a third different DC in three years. This should help with our continuity."
As the coaches settle into their new spots and evaluate what talent should play where and how during spring workouts, Pough sees this off-season and the preseason this fall as time for unproven players to get better.
"It'll be a couple scrimmages before we really settle in, but the main issue this spring is developing the young talent that we have," he said. "We've got maybe four or five young DBs that we red-shirted last year, along with three or four wide receivers that way.
"We are working with three quarterbacks right now and we really want to try to improve our offense, and then we will lean on our returning defensive linemen who we believe are some top-notch players, along with some experienced outside guys on defense."
Even with some experience on both sides of the ball, Pough is quick to point out that the Bulldogs aren't so much a scheme group working on minor tweaks to coverages and plays this spring, but rather they are a developmental group trying to grow and gel together as a team.
"We need to get a lot stronger this spring, with so many young guys in the system who need to grow up a little bit and get meatier to play their positions on this level," Pough said. "We'll need to not only have a good spring with these guys, but on through the summer have a good off-season conditioning program.
"That might be the most important part of the whole deal. I think the most exciting thing is the fact that we've got a good group of young skill guys on both sides of the ball, who seem to be mature enough and into it enough that they can be the level of players that we've seen here in those positions in the past. We were small in the wide receiver corps the last couple years; and it looks like we will have couple bigger guys this season."
Rising junior Tyler Schadewald (6-3, 195, Lexington) and rising sophomore Will Vereen (6-foot, 210, Myrtle Beach) are among the wideouts in the program looking to step into expanded roles this year.
"The one group we have to figure out how to get going is the offensive line group," Pough said. "We don't quite have the bodies right now, having lost Vic (Ishmael) at at center and Justin Evans at tackle. Both those guys were starters for three or four years for us."
Rising sophomore Pat McNeill (6-1, 298, Brookland-Cayce), who is expected to start at center this season, has been out with some health issues and only recently got out of the hospital. Working him back into the mix some this spring will be important. Rising red-shirt sophomore Jalen Page (6-2, 290, Wilson) has been needed at center, moving him from his natural spot at guard.
Pough pointed out that there's still the possibility of adding one or two junior college or graduate transfer linemen after this semester, further bolstering the offensive front heading into the fall.
"There's competition all over the field, and our linebackers will be kind of green," Pough said. "But I like what I've seen so far.
"We've got our work cut out for us, but our guys have worked hard in these early workouts. We're giving as many of the guys as many repetitions as possible, to find out who possibly has a chance to be an asset to this team. Our running backs group is a good one and the quarterbacks are the position group we are probably spending the most time with to make sure we are better there this coming year."
Rising red-shirt sophomore linebacker Chad Gilchrist (6-1, 210, Strom Thurmond) has missed the spring workouts so far, as he rehabs from off-season shoulder surgery. But rising junior Cornelius Walker (6-1, 215, Orangeburg-Wilkinson) and others are picking up helpful reps in practice.