Bowling Green football coach Mike Jinks huddles with his team after the team’s spring game April 8. Jinks said he liked what he saw during spring practices but knows there still are areas that need to be improved. BLADE/LORI KING
BOWLING GREEN — Mike Jinks was looking for at least one outcome from the Bowling Green State University football team’s spring practices.
With the last of the Falcons’ 15 practices Monday, the second-year coach wanted to have a sense of who his top players were before fall drills begin in August.
“What I needed to know coming out of spring was whether I had those guys [who could make plays], or if I had to use four scholarships I have to go get those guys,” Jinks said.
“I need to make sure I have a running back who’s going to get to the house when he has the opportunity, and I need to make sure I have a safety who’s going to run downhill and make the tackle.”
After this spring’s practices, Jinks feels he has a pretty good idea of how his team, which posted a 4-8 record last season, will line up for the Sept. 2 opener at Michigan State.
“We may have guys who were starters last year who aren’t on our two-deep this fall,” he said. “A lot of that has to do with guys coming back from injury.
“We’re still a year or two away from having the quality of depth we want on our roster. But it’s a ton better than where it was last year at this time.”
For example, one position where the Falcons have tried to recruit depth is on the defensive line. Veterans such as senior Gus Schwieterman, who Jinks said had a strong spring, will need to step up or face competition from a number of freshman, a group led by Texas defensive tackle Joshua Croslen.
“You’re not always going to sack the quarterback in this conference,” Jinks said. “Sometimes you just have to push the pocket.
“But we need our guys who are already here to step up and give us more.”
A position of concern for BG entering the spring was linebacker, but Jinks said some of the concerns of that position have been lessened.
“Nate [Locke] had a great spring, and Brandon Harris had a great spring,” Jinks said. “But we still have some competition going on there.”
Aaron Banks and Dorian Hendrix are competing for the third starter’s job, while depth behind Locke and Harris still is in question.
There still are questions in the secondary as well, especially at cornerback. Clint Stephens, who missed all of last season with an injury, saw only limited action in the spring. The reps were split among Cameron Jefferies, Marcus Milton, and Robert Jackson, among others.
“Right now our approach is that Clint Stephens won’t be ready,” Jinks said. “If he’s ready and he can play in the opener, that’s a pleasant bonus for us.
“We got a lot of experience at that position last year, so adding Clint would be a pleasant bonus.”
At safety, the Falcons also spent most of the spring without All-Mid-American Conference performer Jamari Bozeman. But newcomer Fred Garth had a strong spring to add to the depth at that position.
“If Bozeman comes back healthy with a few added pounds of muscle, you have to feel pretty good about our safety position,” Jinks said.
The spring also eased some concerns about the receiver position. Scotty Miller, who also was an All-MAC performer last year, continued his strong play, and junior college transfer Datrin Guyton had an immediate impact.
Jinks also acknowledged the play of Deric Phouthavong, adding that senior Teo Redding has a chance to have a special final season.
“Teo has ball skills as good as anyone I’ve seen,” Jinks said. “But he has to buy into what it takes to be great away from the field.
“If he can gain 10 to 15 pounds of weight, it will be the difference between a cornerback pushing him out of bounds and him making a catch, then come down and score touchdowns.”
On offense, Jinks said the return of seniors Tim McAuliffe and Ryan Hunter form the basis for a top-notch offensive line this season — while raising concern for the position after the returning starters graduate.
Junior Austin Labus, sophomore Lorenzo Taborn, and redshirt freshmen Caleb Bright have performed well, but depth down the road will remain a question.
“This year, I feel great about our offensive line,” Jinks said. “We have good leaders and good depth. Next year scares me a little bit, though. We need a couple of kids to really come through and develop to bring that group together.”
Senior Donovan Wilson impressed as the Falcons’ feature back, and Josh Cleveland showed his quickness with a 75-yard touchdown run in the spring game.
“I hope our whole team picks up Donovan’s work ethic,” Jinks said. “And everybody knows that if Donovan has success running the ball, that will open things up for us.
“As we got better last year, it was because we were able to run to set the tempo, then pass off of it.”
The spring confirmed that sophomore James Morgan is the starting quarterback, but Jinks said the battle for the backup role among freshmen Elijah Cunningham, Jarret Doege, and Grant Loy will carry into the fall.
Meanwhile, the development of Central Catholic High School grad Jake Suder as the team’s kicker, combined with the return of All-MAC punter Joe Davidson from Findlay, has Jinks feeling better about those special-teams spots.
“We’re a better football team,” Jinks said. “We’re not where we want to be when this is all said and done, but we’re a better team.”