New coaches, same plan for Citadel

Citadel quarterback Dominique Allen and the Bulldogs began spring practice on Tuesday.

Citadel football underwent big changes in the offseason, with new names in the key positions of head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator.

But as spring practice began Tuesday under new head coach Brent Thompson, things didn’t look much different. Even the familiar no-see-um bugs were out to greet the Bulldogs on a warm, sunny day.

“We’re going to do what we do,” is how senior linebacker Tevin Floyd put it. “We’re just going to do it better.”

That’s the game plan set out by Thompson, who was promoted from offensive coordinator to replace Mike Houston, who left after just two seasons at The Citadel for James Madison.

A team that went 9-4 in 2015, won a share of the Southern Conference title and a playoff game and upset SEC member South Carolina is not in need of an overhaul, but some fine-tuning, the thinking goes.

“We are going to work on some things that we may not have been so good at during the course of last season,” Thompson said.

At a team meeting earlier Tuesday, Thompson laid out those problem areas.

“There were some deficiencies last year,” said Thompson, whose triple-option offense led the SoCon in rushing offense (347 yards per game) and was second in scoring offense (30.8 points per game) in 2015.

“Our fourth-down conversions, we were not very good,” he said. “In red-zone efficiency, we were not very good; the year before, we were top 10 in the country and we fell almost to the bottom 10. On defense, we’re going to work on getting off the field on third downs. I told the kids, we’ve got to get comfortable in uncomfortable situations.”

For Citadel players, the two days in January when Houston’s departure was announced and Thompson was named head coach over defensive coordinator Maurice Drayton were the most uncomfortable. Drayton, a 1998 Citadel grad, later left for an assistant coaching job with the Indianapolis Colts.

“Times like those, you hear a lot of stuff coming from the outside,” Floyd said. “The main thing for us was to continue working on us. No matter who was named the coach, we were going to continue that push toward winning the conference outright and going deep into the playoffs next year.”

The defense is in familiar hands with linebackers coach Blake Harrell elevated to defensive coordinator. On offense, Lou Conte -- who worked with Houston and Thompson at Lenoir-Rhyne and at The Citadel -- is the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Conte will have one less QB to work with, as backup Shon Belton has left the program after appearing in three games last year. That leaves starter Dominique Allen back along with redshirt freshmen Jordan Black and A.J. Vandiver. Thompson said he hopes to avoid having slotback Cam Jackson, who competed for the starting QB job last fall, take reps at quarterback this spring.

New starters must be found on the offensive line, where all-SoCon guard Sam Frye and tackle Michael Mabry are finished. The defense must replace SoCon defensive player of the year Mitchell Jeter on the line and James Riley at linebacker.

No matter which players emerge, they will practice and play the same physical, aggressive style that Houston espoused.

“There’s only one way to play this game, and that’s physical,” Thompson said. “We’re going to maintain that physical aspect, and there’s no other way to do that other than to practice that way. If we’re going to talk the talk, we have to walk the walk.”

• The Bulldogs will practice on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through March 17, with the spring game set for 1 p.m. March 19 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The team will hold two additional practices after the spring game.