Bobby Lamb’s Mercer team is going to have a new look in 2017 after 30 seniors, including many of the program’s original group of players and a ton of well-known stars, moved on.
This year’s team will have only 11 seniors, and it will get to work Monday with the start of spring practice.
“There’s nothing like changing gears. Go right from signing day to spring practice on Monday,” Lamb said. “The great thing about spring practice is you get 15 opportunities on the grass with your players and teaching them how to play football. They can lift all the weights they want in the world and do all the agility drills they want, but until you actually get out there and play football, that’s what it’s all about. So our coaches are really looking forward to that.”
Here’s a position-by-position look at the Bears entering spring practice:
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Going to miss: John Russ.
In the mix: Tanner Brumby, Kaelan Riley.
Of note: Russ has started every game since the Bears’ program kicked off in 2013, so there will be a huge change at this position. Lamb said Brumby and Riley, a redshirt freshman in 2016, will split the repetitions during the spring. Riley looks like a future star.
Going to miss: Payton Usher.
In the mix: Alex Lakes, CJ Leggett.
Of note: More help will come this summer in the Bears’ signing class, but Lakes and Leggett will lead the way in the backfield. Leggett is a former Georgia Tech player who played last year at Mesa Community College. Leggett redshirted in 2014 at Georgia Tech and missed the 2015 season with an ACL injury before he was dismissed from the team.
Going to miss: Jordan Marshall, Josh Jones.
In the mix: Chandler Curtis, Marquise Irvin, Avery Ward, Julian Burris.
Of note: With Curtis, Irvin and Ward back, there are plenty of weapons to help the Bears’ next quarterback settle in.
Going to miss: Robert Brown.
In the mix: Sam Walker, Chase Westfall.
Of note: Walker has become a star and a reliable weapon for Mercer’s offense, while Westfall adds much-needed depth.
Going to miss: Bret Niederreither, Mitch Payne, Kirby Southard, Avery White.
In the mix: Thomas Marchman, Mitch Mathes, Caleb Yates, Jake Flath, Austin Sanders, Dawson Ellis, Terence Brigham, David May.
Of note: Southard has started every game at center for this program, while Niederreither became a terrific offensive lineman after moving over from the defensive line. Marchman, Mathes and Yates have seen a lot of action, and there are some talented young players to keep an eye on. Brigham and May joined the program as transfers and will offer immediate help.
Going to miss: Tunde Ayinla.
In the mix: Austin Barrett, Isaiah Buehler, Dorian Kithcart, Austin Wysor, Jalen Penn, Destin Gullien, Behr Cooper.
Of note: The Bears continue to get stronger on the defensive line as they move through their recruiting classes. There is plenty of returning talent up front, and Cooper could be a player to keep an eye on after redshirting in 2016.
Going to miss: Tosin Aguebor, Devin Davidson, Corey Lockett, Tripp Patterson, Tyler Ward.
In the mix: Lemarkus Bailey, Lee Bennett, Will Coneway, Kyle Trammell, Jonathan Ward, Kyle Williams, Travonte Easley, Sidney Otiwu, Ahmad Arnold.
Of note: The linebacker group loses a lot of experience and leadership, especially with Aguebor and Tyler Ward moving on. But just like the defensive front, the linebackers continue to improve with each signing class. Bailey and Bennett should be leaders on the defense, while Coneway appears ready to take a step in that direction, as well. Otiwu and Arnold are talented stars in the making.
Going to miss: Lendell Arnold, Zach Jackson, Mike Gray.
In the mix: Stephen Houzah, Eric Jackson, Jeremy James, Kam Lott, Harrison Poole, Brandon Gurley, Malique Fleming, Brandon Coney, Seth Hattaway.
Of note: Poole redshirted in 2016, but look for him to step right into plenty of playing time at cornerback, along with Houzah, Jackson, James and Lott. Mercer must replace both starting safeties, opening playing time at that spot with another redshirt in Fleming jumping into the mix.