JACKSONVILLE -- As Jacksonville State goes through spring football practice, there was still someone wearing No. 7 on the field Thursday morning.
But the guy inside that jersey is an anonymous defensive player, and not the All-America quarterback, Eli Jenkins, who made that number so familiar to JSU fans the past four years. Jenkins has graduated, and while he still hit the field Thursday -- for the Gamecocks’ annual Pro Day workouts for NFL scouts in the afternoon -- the JSU football team is looking for his replacement this spring.
The Gamecocks also are trying to replace their All-America center, Casey Dunn, a two-year starter. Dunn has one year of eligibility remaining but has moved to Auburn as a graduate transfer.
“The quarterback and the center … that’s a pretty big part of your offense,” Grass said after Thursday’s workout, which was JSU’s third of the spring and first in full pads.
At quarterback, a pair of rising juniors, Bryant Horn and Kendrick Doss, are the top two entering spring. At the end of last season, Horn was second on the depth chart behind Jenkins, and Doss was third.
“We would’ve liked to play them more last year, but it didn’t pan out the way we wanted,” Grass said. “But they both got better as the year went on. We think both can handle the job really well and can lead the football team.”
Horn threw seven passes last season, completing six with a couple of touchdowns. He also rushed for 120 yards. Doss didn’t attempt a pass in a game, but he did rush three times and gained 25 yards.
“We might play both of them. We’ve done that before, playing two of them.”
Both joined the JSU quarterback picture last year. Doss transferred from junior college, and Horn played defensive back until shifting to quarterback in the spring. He played quarterback through high school, however.
“Eli taught us a lot,” Horn said. “He gave us something to model ourselves after. Nobody will live up to Eli and everything he did, but we’ll do the best we can.”
At center, Jax State didn’t expect to return Dunn, as he was listed as a senior last season. The Gamecocks appealed to the NCAA, however, to get his year of eligibility back for the 2014 season, when he played the first five games as a starting guard but missed the rest of the year because of a knee injury.
The appeal was successful, but Dunn chose to go to graduate school at Auburn and play for the Tigers.
“It was unexpected to get the year back,” Grass said. “He chose to transfer, and we wish him well.”
Plenty of candidates are working to replace Dunn, including last year’s backup, senior Spencer Watley. Junior Tyler Johnson and senior Justin Lea, a starting guard, are possibilities. So are senior Tyler Scozzaro and freshman Nate Archie, who spent the fall in prep school before heading to JSU.
“We’ve got four to six guys who can snap the ball,” Grass said. “Everybody along the line can snap the ball, if we needed them.”
Not everyone is available for spring practice, although Grass said he has fewer players out than usual. Lea is out of spring practice because of a leg injury. Linebacker Joseph Roberts is out because of shoulder surgery, which he is expected to undergo today. Offensive lineman Darius Anderson is expected to miss time, too, because of an injury.