Three Questions Facing JMU Football As Fall Camp Begins

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

JMU’s fall football camp begins this week. What a sweet sentence to type!

I cannot wait for the return of college football season, and while August doesn’t provide any JMU games, we do get frequent media updates from preseason camp. That’s not a bad consolation prize.

Here are three questions I’m monitoring as the Dukes prepare for their major showdown in Charlottesvi … oops, I mean their Week 1 game with Bucknell, which is definitely a very serious game and not a glorified exhibition.

Who will win the starting quarterback job?

This is an easy inclusion on our list. Quarterback is the most important position in the sport, and JMU hasn’t named a Week 1 starter. Much of fall camp media coverage and fan interest will revolve around the starting quarterback battle.

The battle is between redshirt senior Jordan McCloud and redshirt freshman Alonza Barnett III. I’ve gone on record numerous times saying I consider McCloud the favorite, given his previous experience. He started games at South Florida and Arizona, although he didn’t play in 2022 and missed much of the 2021 season following a leg injury.

Even with some potential rust, McCloud’s 23 career touchdown passes and 3,251 career passing yards give him a gigantic playing experience edge over his peers. McCloud started 10 games in 2019, while all of his competitors at the position were still in high school.

Watching McCloud’s game film, it’s clear he’s a dynamic runner and solid passer. When healthy, he’s capable of being an All-Sun Belt player.

Barnett has ample talent, but he’s only appeared in two games during his collegiate career. For him to win the job, he’ll need to shine during fall camp. Cignetti is providing the redshirt freshman that opportunity. Can he summon the best football of his life to seize it?

Who will the starting quarterback target?

Redshirt senior Reggie Brown is obvious, as he’s JMU’s projected No. 1 wide receiver. After Brown, JMU has about 10 wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs seemingly worthy of important roles in the passing game.

Which players will separate during fall camp? The question is particularly interesting at wide receiver.

JMU has multiple options at the position who transferred into the program this offseason (redshirt senior Phoenix Sproles (NDSU), junior Omarion Dollison (South Florida), sophomore Elijah Sarratt (Saint Francis), and redshirt sophomore Taji Hudson (ECU)). Can those guys carve out playing time immediately?

Sproles is a reliable playmaker, while Dollison has straight-line speed that can’t be taught. Sarratt and Hudson are bigger bodies, making them dangerous in the red zone and potentially as physical run blockers.

Redshirt sophomore Troy Lewis, redshirt freshman Jayden Mines, and true freshman Maxwell Moss are other names to closely monitor during camp. JMU has plenty of options at wide receiver, but outside of Brown, starting time is up for grabs with one month until kickoff.

Is JMU’s depth improved?

For whatever reason, JMU fans love to say the Dukes could’ve went 10-1 or 11-0 in 2022 if Todd Centeio remained healthy all season.

I can get behind the argument that the Dukes would’ve taken down Marshall with a healthy Centeio, but the quarterback’s lack of health isn’t why Louisville dominated the line of scrimmage in the second half of a 34-10 win over JMU. And Centeio starred in JMU’s loss to Georgia Southern. The Dukes might’ve hung closer against Louisville with a healthy Centeio, but I doubt they would’ve won that road game against a red-hot ACC team.

When facing the best opponent on its schedule, a banged up JMU looked like a far less talented bunch than the Cards. In fairness, the Dukes were less talented that Saturday.

Cignetti spent the offseason working to bolster depth, arguably the biggest need for the program ahead of a big 2023 season. On paper, the Dukes look deeper at just about every position thanks to superb recruiting efforts (high school and transfer portal). Will the hope of better depth prove true during camp?

I’m looking at quarterback, defensive tackle, and cornerback as three position groups that have the biggest question marks surrounding depth.

Are McCloud and Barnett going to form a dynamic tandem at quarterback? Could one step up and lead JMU to wins if the other went down with injury?

At defensive tackle, I love James Carpenter (I should’ve given him more respect last offseason) and Marshall transfer Immanuel Bush. After those two, which guys show up on the two deep?

Redshirt junior Sean Johns has some playing experience, and he’s been in the program for a while and he backed up Carpenter last fall. Redshirt senior Jamree Kromah is expected to start on the edge, but he’s played inside during his JMU career and can slide over if injuries mount.

I’m also high on the potential of redshirt freshmen Ike Thompson and Tyrique Tucker. Could either of those youngsters fight their way into a meaningful backup role?

At cornerback, sophomore Chauncey Logan, sophomore Brent Austin, and senior Devyn Coles form a reliable trio of options. After those three, who else might serve in backup roles?

The Dukes have a ton of young options, including redshirt freshman transfer Trevell Mullen and true freshman D’Angelo Ponds. Who will step up after those players and are they good enough to prevent a drop off if any of the top guys go down with injury?

JMU’s depth was a problem during its three-game losing streak in 2022. Is it better this year? Positional depth is arguably the most important storyline this August.

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