3 takeaways for Mercer Bears from the 2019 SoCon Media Day

The Southern Conference Media Day is in the books. Head coach Bobby Lamb, quarterback Robert Riddle and linebacker Will Coneway made the trip up to Spartanburg, South Carolina, to discuss some of the major topics heading into the new season.

For the seniors like Coneway, Media Day is one of the final steps before they take the field for the start of their final season at Mercer.

“It is my last go-round,” Coneway said. “It is going to be big playing with these guys one last season and try to make it memorable.”

Here is a look at three of the big takeaways from SoCon Media Day 2019 as the Bears prepare for the season to kick off on the road on August 31 at Western Carolina.

A group of new coaches could provide a spark for the Bears

The Bears added six new coaches this off-season, including an offensive and defensive coordinator.

This is a pretty large turnover for a coaching staff and one that should not be taken lightly, like losing former defensive coordinator Mike Kolakowski. Mercer has not seen a staff turnover quite like this since the program restarted in 2013.

The new group of coaches will bring in some new schemes, different coaching styles and potentially some fire to a team that seems to consistently finish in the middle of the conference.

“I am very encouraged by the new ideas our guys are bringing. Our players are excited about it,” Lamb said. “We are excited to see what those guys can do.”

The additions to the staff include:

  • Bill Legg: Offensive coordinator; former Mississippi State offensive consultant, former offensive coordinator at West Virginia and Marshall.
  • Mike Adams: Defensive coordinator; former Charleston Southern safeties and special teams coordinator.
  • Jeremy Hawkins: Defensive line coach; former LSU Assistant Director of Player Personnel and former defensive coordinator at Dublin High School.
  • Leon Wright: Cornerbacks; former LSU defensive backs analyst.
  • Chase Haslett: Tight ends coach; former Mississippi State graduate assistant.
  • Matt Fleischacker: Outside linebackers; former Penn State graduate assistant.

Lamb said new ideas are already flowing and his players seem excited to work under the coaches they’ve brought in with hopes of taking the program to the next level.

A season ago, LSU finished its season off with a win in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl with Hawkins on its staff. Adding that type of experience to Mercer’s staff can play a major role in the growth of the team. Many new coaches came from teams that are perennial powerhouses vying for a spot in the College Football Playoff at the FBS level.

On the offensive side of the ball, Riddle said the new staff brings a perspective to the game that he hasn’t had before. Legg played offensive lineman for West Virginia in the early 80s. Riddle says he has never had a coordinator before that played offensive line.

Coneway said they switched defensive schemes with Adams at defensive coordinator. The Bears were running a 3-4 defense but will switch to a 4-2-5 defense this season. Coneway ran that defense in high school at Washington County so he already has some familiarity with the new scheme.

“He is a great coach. He brought a lot of new ideas,” Coneway said. “We have the talent to run the defense and run it well.”

Opening with a conference game helps set the tone early

The Bears are tasked with opening the season with a conference game against Western Carolina.

This could potentially alter and shape the entire season as Mercer will need to stay ahead in the conference race to have a shot at a postseason bid.

Lamb said there are positives and negatives to the schedule. The negative is that they could find themselves in the hole in conference play before the team even gets a chance to finds itself.

“The negative is right out of the game it’s win or lose obviously but it is either get ahead of the game or be behind the game,” Lamb said. “The positive is you have all preseason camp to work on your opponent.”

Being able to have all preseason to prepare for Western Carolina could prove to be beneficial. A year ago, Mercer knocked off Western Carolina in a 59-46 shootout in which Tyrie Adams almost singlehandedly carried the Catamounts to a victory with over 350 yards passing and nearly 200 yards rushing. The Bears are 3-2 against the Catamounts since joining the Southern Conference but have won three straight in the series. The Bears’ no. 1 task will be finding a way to contain Adams on opening day.

The wacky schedule does not end with the opener for Mercer. The following week the Bears will have a bye week followed by an out-of-conference game against Austin Peay then another road conference game against Furman.

“We have a chance to reassess after game one,” Lamb said “As you know in this league anything can happen on down the road.”

The Bears could be 2-0 in the conference by the end of week 4. This would be a big momentum builder for a team that is locked in on taking home its first SoCon title.

Bears bring home plenty of preseason honors and some added motivation

The Bears had seven players tabbed for All-SoCon preseason honors. This should give Mercer a little additional confidence heading into the season as they have representatives on both sides of the ball and special teams.

“It gives you a little swagger but it also gives you something to work hard for,” Coneway said. “It just shows how much competition and talent that we actually have.”

The list of preseason All-SoCon honorees includes:

  • Running back Tyray Devezin (First team All-SoCon)
  • Offensive lineman Austin Sanders (First team All-SoCon)
  • Kick returner/Wide Receiver David Durden (First team All-SoCon and Second team All-SoCon)
  • Tight End Christ Ellington (Second team All-SoCon)
  • Defensive lineman Dorian Kithcart (Second team All-SoCon)
  • Linebacker Will Coneway (Second team All-SoCon)
  • Defensive back Malique Fleming (Second team All-SoCon)

The preseason conference rankings should provide them with the extra motivation to prove they are a top of the conference team. They were picked fifth by the coaches and fourth by the media. Coneway said it has already added some fuel to the fire for the team.

“It gives you that extra push in workouts and practice because you want to prove people wrong,” Coneway said.

The Bears consistently recruit well and are generally one or two breaks away from winning almost every game. Coneway says that the team is headed toward a breakout season.

“We are destined for a breakout year,” he said. “We have the talent, we have the coaches in place to make sure we do everything the correct way.”

Justin Baxley is the fan life reporter at The Telegraph and writes stories centered around entertainment, food and sports in the Macon community. Justin joined the Telegraph staff after graduating from Mercer University in May 2017 with a degree in criminal justice and journalism. During his time at Mercer he served as the sports editor for The Cluster.