Starting jobs at stake in scrimmage


JONESBORO — Bryan Harsin likens Arkansas State’s second scrimmage of fall camp to an NFL preseason game.

Roster decisions lie ahead for the Red Wolves, who will soon shift into game preparations for the Aug. 31 season opener against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Saturday afternoon’s scrimmage at Liberty Bank Stadium will give Harsin and his assistant coaches more information to consider as they hammer out the details of ASU’s depth chart.

The scrimmage will be similar in format to ASU’s first scrimmage last week, Harsin said, but won’t last as long.

“It won’t be as many plays. We’ll probably get 10 to 15 for the first group in there and we’ll probably have anywhere from 20 to 25 with the second group, and then 20 to 25 with the third group,” said Harsin, ASU’s first-year head coach. “We want to get our guys that are playing to get in there and get good pops, let them play hard, let them get out there and get lathered up pretty good, and then get some of the guys in there who are competing for spots because we really have to make decisions on who are some of the backups in those areas, who are some of the guys who are going to be 1A and 1B. We have to allow those guys to compete that out.”

Fans will be able to observe the competition as well. Saturday’s practice, which starts at 1 p.m., will be open to the public as part of the A-State Fan Fest.

With classes starting Monday at ASU, Saturday’s scrimmage will be the next-to-last workout of fall camp. The Red Wolves reported to camp Aug. 1 and held their first practice the next day.

During media day activities, Harsin said ASU would really start getting into preparations for UAPB after Saturday’s scrimmage. He has indicated that a depth chart would be released by game week, at the least, and a decision on a starting quarterback would be made no less than 10 days out from the opening game.

An absolute decision on the quarterback hasn’t been made, Harsin said after practice earlier this week, but some players are starting to get more repetitions at that position.

“Adam Kennedy has done a nice job this camp. Fredi Knighten has done a nice job,” Harsin said. “Those two guys, and everybody has, but those two guys have made some really good plays out there. I’ve been impressed with Phillip Butterfield coming in there. Phillip is a guy who continues to be very consistent as we go along. Those guys have done some really good things in there.

“Stephen Hogan, which I felt like in the spring he had the furthest to go only because he hadn’t played the position, continues to come on. … Those guys continue to keep floating around there in the mix. Cameron Birse is getting reps in there, Chandler Rogers is getting reps too, but those other guys seem to be more consistent right now and they’re getting some more opportunities.”

Kennedy is a senior transfer from Utah State who led the Aggies to a bowl game after replacing an injured starter in 2011. Knighten, last year’s backup as a true freshman, was a Parade All-American at Pulaski Academy.

Butterfield is a fifth-year senior, while Hogan is a sophomore who moved from wide receiver to quarterback in the spring. Birse is a true freshman and Rogers is a junior college transfer who arrived last spring.

Co-offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan, who coaches quarterbacks, said Saturday is a big day in ASU’s decision-making process.

“Any time you have a live scrimmage and coaches kind of stand back and let guys operate, it’s obviously a big mental test for those guys,” Hamdan said. “From the decision and those things, we’re going out every day and trying to stay focused. I tell those guys, ‘Compete against yourself.’ We have to push ourselves to be as good as we can because at the end of the year, there’s going to be situations where a lot of those guys are going to have to step in and play for us.”

Defensive coordinator John Thompson followed Harsin in comparing Saturday’s scrimmage to the last NFL preseason game.

“We’ve got to make some cut decisions and we’ve got some guys who are on the bubble,” Thompson said. “Are they going to be ready for the first game? Are we going to have to keep waiting and let them come along at a little difference pace?

“Depth obviously is our biggest concern. We’ve got depth issues at linebacker, we’ve got depth issues in the secondary. That’s the biggest thing going into the scrimmage. I’m really, really looking forward to it.”

Qushaun Lee returns for his junior season at linebacker after making 100 tackles last year. Watson Chapel graduate Kyle Coleman, also a junior, has moved into a linebacker role after playing the Wolf position in 2012.

Thompson is eager to see how Quanterio Heath, a redshirt freshman from Rison, and senior LaAngelo Albright perform at linebacker Saturday. Heath has had a good camp, Thompson said, and Albright has taken on a different role.

“LaAngelo Albright has moved over and is playing some Mike linebacker, and he has to step up and he has,” Thompson said. “Our linebackers have to run the show. They have to be the quarterback of the defense, and he has to step up.”

The Red Wolves are also looking for depth at safety behind junior Sterling Young and sophomore Chris Humes. Humes has had a good camp, Thompson said, but the Red Wolves’ defensive coordinator would like to see him take on a more vocal role in the secondary.

Thompson turned to financial terms when asked which positions remain up in the air on the first-team defense.

“All 11 of them (are open), but some guys have more money in the bank than others. If you write a check, you better have the funds to cover it,” Thompson said. “I would say Ryan Carrethers has a nice bank account at this point. Artez Brown has a nice bank account. Sterling Young has a nice bank account.

“There may be some others who have good accounts, but nobody can write a real bad check. They’ve got to do it every day. They all do.”