With The Citadel's spring football game set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Johnson Hagood Stadium, new coach Mike Houston talks about how his defense has progressed in spring practice.
The Bulldogs will shift to a 4-2-5 look on defense next season with a "bandit" safety.
"It's a lot of variety, a lot of different looks and pressures," Houston said. "The package is really, really good. But we are still working on fundamentals. I don't know how long it will take to get where we had it at Lenoir-Rhyne, where we had one of the top five defenses at the Division II level over the last five years. It took a long time to get to that point; hopefully we can accelerate it more here."
. Defensive Line
Rising junior Mitchell Jeter (6-0, 280) and senior Cam Mobley (6-0, 265) look to start inside at tackle, with senior Justin Oxendine (6-3, 260) and junior Mark Thomas (6-2, 215) at end.
"Jeter has been fantastic," Houston said. "He's the one who has stood out. He's a really good football player, and I expect him to have a great season. Mobley has been a surprise at nose guard, but I'm really on him about his conditioning. He's got to be able to play more than three plays at at time. He's got to play a lot of reps.
"With Oxendine, I'm really on him about just learning how to play fast and physical. He's a good specimen, a good-looking joker. But he's got to learn how to use that ability. (Former tight end) Nick Jeffreys is really pushing him there. At the other end, we have a great battle going on with Joe Crochet and Mark Thomas. That one, I can't tell you who is No. 1 and who's No. 2."
Rising senior Carson Smith (6-2, 230) is back after missing last season with an ankle injury. Junior James Riley (5-11, 205) and sophomore Tevin Floyd (6-1, 230) return, and senior Carl Robinson (6-1, 255) is out for the spring game as he rehabs a torn ACL.
"James Riley has had a great spring," Houston said. "He's another one, kind of like (receiver) Brandon Eakins, that I'm challenging every day to be more, because he can be. Carson Smith has had a solid spring. He's got to be the guy who makes all the checks and adjustments, who knows the defense real well, so he's got a lot of work on that end of it over the summer.
"Tevin Floyd is pushing Carson there at call linebacker, and we'll be excited to get Carl Robinson back."
Rising senior Rah Muhammad (5-11, 200) is making the move from linebacker to "bandit", a safety position. Junior Nick Willis (6-2, 200) and senior Julian Baxter (6-0, 195) are at safety, with several players competing at cornerback, including redshirt freshman Cody Richardson (5-11, 180) and senior Walker Smith (5-9, 180), the special teams player of the year last season.
"Rah is a good player and will be a great leader for us on defense," Houston said. "He's by far the No. 1 at that position. Dondray Copeland is a young kid who's pushing to get into that 2 spot at bandit.
"Nick has had every bump and bruise injury that you can and has not practiced a lot this spring. I really want him to be our safety, but we've got to get him on the field and get him reps. Baxter has gotten better and better as the spring has gone on, and will be a solid player for us. Malik Diggs, an inside safety, is a young guy we've got to spend a lot of time with, but he's got some potential. Kevin Thornton will be in the mix, a fifth-year kid.
"At corner, Cody Richardson is not where we want him to be yet, but he's getting better. He's got all the tools and potentially has everything you need to play the position. He's just got to push himself to improve. Guys like DeVonta Delaney, Ben Roberts, Walker Smith, Tyus Carter, all those kids are in the mix at the other spot."
. Special teams
"Sophomore) Will Vanvick has had a great spring at punter, a good strong leg," Houston said. "Eric Goins will be his backup, and Hunter Morris done a good job at long snapper. There's a big battle going on at placekicker with Austin Jordan and Goins there.
"A lot of different guys have been working at punt return - Schoultz, who did it some last year, along with Delaney, Jake Stenson, Jorian Jordan. On kick return, Dalton Trevino, Schoultz, Jordan, a lot of the same guys."