The Mercer Bears have talent all over the field heading into this season. It looks as though they will be able to compete for a Southern Conference title with seven guys bringing home preseason awards.
The Bears have some depth and stability at a few key positions so here is a look at the three most stable position groups on the roster.
It is very rare for an FCS school time to have more than one solid quarterback on its roster. Yet head coach Bobby Lamb, a former FCS star quarterback at Furman, has done a tremendous job of bringing in top-level talent each and every year at the quarterback position. He also has the ability to get the most out of his quarterbacks.
When the program first started back up in 2013, an undersized guy by the name of John Russ started at the position. Most would’ve guessed that Russ wouldn’t be able to develop at the FCS level based on his size and lack of arm strength.
Lamb played to his quarterback’s strengths and masked his potential weakness to turn him into one of the best quarterbacks in the conference by the time he graduated.
Now he has multiple guys with the size and arm strength of the prototypical quarterback position in Robert Riddle and Kaelan Riley. In Riley’s first season he was named SoCon Freshman of the Year.
A season ago, Riddle was able to overtake Riley as the starter and until an injury cut his season short, he showed flashes of being one of the best in the country.
But even beyond those two, Harrison Frost filled in admirably as the starter down the stretch last season. Plus a group of young guys waiting in the wings could potentially be starting in most programs. Players like Bryce Lawrence and Dylan Fromm are intriguing young guys on the roster who could one day take over the position after Riddle graduates.
The fact that this position can be passed down for at least the next four to five years with starter-caliber guys three and four deep on the roster is unheard of at this level of college football. It gives the Bears a peace of mind that most schools simply don’t have.
There would clearly be a drop off between Riddle and anyone else on the roster at the present moment. But the Bears have capable backups and would be able to navigate relatively well if they were called upon.
The Bears have talent throughout the secondary. Redshirt senior Eric Jackson and junior Malique Fleming are two of the best players in all of the SoCon at any position.
Fleming was named to the preseason All-SoCon second team and is coming off of a season where he recorded 77 tackles and three forced fumbles. He brings a swagger and attitude to this group that can’t be ignored.
Jackson probably would be on one of the preseason teams if not for an injury that forced him to miss three games last season.
There is more to this position group than just its two stars. They also have a pair of guys who are great in coverage with Harrison Poole and BJ Bohler. Last season, they combined for three interceptions and nearly 10 pass breakups.
The secondary is filled with players who have versatile skill sets and the ability to come up and make the tackle or go step-for-step in coverage. They’ve added a new group of freshman that also fit that style as well, like Joel Girtman who was a hard hitter in high school but managed to pick off quite a few passes as well.
The depth and versatility of this group can’t be underrated. This position group will be the key to the Bears success on defense.
Anchored by preseason first-team All-SoCon Austin Sanders, this group has the ability to be the driving force behind Mercer’s success.
Sanders, Jake Flath and Dawson Ellis are all returning seniors. That experience will be crucial to keeping quarterback Riddle upright in the pocket and carving out holes for star running back Tyray Devezin to squeeze through.
They also have a tremendous amount of depth and have been able to add additional talent through this year’s recruiting class, including Mary Persons graduate Colton Dingmore.
The team did allow sacks last season which contributed to a pair of quarterbacks going down with injuries.
There were three games last season where they didn’t allow a sack but also multiple games where the allowed over four sacks. The key this year will be consistency from this position group.
The line paved the way for over 1,600 yards of rushing last season with an average over 145 per game. Devezin, a backup who stepped into a starting role due to injury, lead the SoCon in rushing behind the line. Riddle’s ability to pass will also keep team’s from stacking the box to shut down the run game.
The offensive line will be the catalyst behind a more balanced offensive attack this season.
It seems on paper to be one of the most stable on the roster thanks to experience and depth.