Three Key Questions Ahead of JMU Football’s 2023 Spring Practices

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

JMU football begins spring practices Thursday. After an excellent 8-3 season in their first season at the FBS level, the Dukes hope to become an elite Group of Five program in the next few seasons.

JMU certainly has the potential to win the Sun Belt, but the Dukes also have plenty of unknowns heading into spring ball. I have my sights set on three questions entering spring practice.

Offense: Can anyone push Jordan McCloud at QB?

This is the major question in my mind entering spring practice. Todd Centeio’s high-level play made JMU dynamic in 2022. With Centeio gone, who becomes the guy?

While there will be discussion surrounding a QB battle during spring and summer practices, Jordan McCloud is the obvious on-paper favorite to win the job. He played (and played well) at USF and in limited action at Arizona. McCloud is experienced, athletic, and talented. He makes sense as JMU’s starting quarterback, having thrown for over 3,200 yards in his career.

So can anyone push him and make it a true competition in 2023? Will there be an intense battle for the backup spot? Will any of the backups enter the transfer portal after the spring?

Wake Forest transfer Brett Griffis is young and talented, as is Alonza Barnett III. Both are redshirt freshmen with seemingly high ceilings.

Billy Atkins looks like the wild card, as Atkins is a young-ish quarterback (redshirt sophomore) who seemed poised to become a future starter. He really struggled in limited action last season, though, sending his JMU future into question. Can he bounce back after five of his 43 passes last season were intercepted? Will he leave for the portal?

Defense: Run it back?

JMU returns essentially it’s entire starting defense from last season, with the exception of defensive lineman Jamare Edwards. The Dukes should have one of the best defenses in not only the Sun Belt, but arguably all of college football.

The defensive line is stacked with guys like James Carpenter and Isaac Ukwu. Linebackers Jailin Walker and Taurus Jones return. In the secondary, Chauncey Logan is back at corner, and the safety spot is deeeep with Que Reid, Josh Sarratt, and others back.

So will JMU just run it back? Will any underclassmen or transfer additions work their way into the mix?

JMU’s defense has elite-level potential, which means competition will be stiff. I’m fascinated to see which players break into the mix.

Special teams: Can it become a weapon?

JMU’s special teams efficiency a season ago was 116th out of 131 teams, according to ESPN. The Dukes, if they want to take the next step under Curt Cignetti, could go for more consistent and dynamic special teams plays.

Can JMU generate blocked kicks? Can the Dukes have a punt or kickoff return touchdown … or two … or three? Will Camden Wise add increased distance to his field goals? How does the addition of punter Ryan Hanson from Arkansas State improve the punt team?

JMU’s offense should be plenty good in 2023, with the Dukes bringing in a number of skilled wide receivers and returning star offensive linemen and running backs. The defense figures to be one of the two or three best in the Sun Belt. If the special teams unit becomes a weapon, JMU could end the season as the highest-ranked G5 team in the country. If it doesn’t, it could cost the Dukes a couple wins.

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