The day went as planned for Mercer, and that was a good thing.
Everybody Mercer expected to get paperwork from on National Signing Day came through with that paperwork, and head coach Bobby Lambs staff had 20 future Bears accounted for by noon.
There were no late changes or waffling for the Bears, who signed 16 on Wednesday to go with three transfers and an early enrollee that the team announced last month.
Bolstering things up front was a priority.
Even though we were second in the nation in rushing, still, offensive line play and defensive line play are going to have to improve, Lamb said. Were getting into a different league with a bigger body in front of you.
So eyes in August will be on Austin Barrett, Austin Wysor and Jalen Penn, among others.
It all starts with the noseguard, Lamb said of the defense. It all starts up front, so Im hoping that some of these guys can help us up front immediately.
Depth was a major issue on the offensive side, but the Bears turned in a fairly remarkable season in the Pioneer Football League despite playing only six. The minimal depth took a hit early on when starting left tackle Brett Steverson suffered a season-ending ankle injury.
That meant Sam Arrington, at 244 pounds, moved to the most important spot on the offensive line. And he performed above expectations. Still, Lamb is looking for bigger bodies.
You cant play left tackle at 244 in this league were about to get in, Lamb said of the move to the Southern Conference. But hell be a great guard and a great center. Hell move inside, and then we gotta find people to replace him.
Steverson is 100 percent and will be ready for spring, when hell welcome Tennessee transfer Alan Posey, among others, into the mix.
Defensive back LeMarkus Bailey and wideout/defensive back Chandler Curtis are among those who have quality resumes.
(Bailey) had a lot of stuff going, Lamb said. Hes a very dynamic, physical guy that can cover the pass and fits with the run and makes plays at the line of scrimmage.
(Curtiss) stats are pretty daunting. He played defense every down.
Moving to the Southern Conference changed plenty in Mercers recruiting approach.
Its totally different, Lamb said. Youre still dealing with kids; youre dealing with the emotions of the kids and then their families.
But the bottom line is, the big difference is, these young men are coming on a full scholarship to play football here at the university and represent Mercer.
The offseason competition changed, as well.
We battled our Southern Conference foes, Lamb said. We battled Air Force, Army, Navy. We battled some of the Sun Belt schools. Those are the schools (that) if were going to build this program, those are the schools you gotta go out and beat.