JMU Spring Football Preview: Three Questions Facing the Dukes

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

JMU men’s basketball’s March Madness appearance understandably garners the most attention from JMU fans this week, but the football team begins spring practices Thursday.

It’s a new era in Harrisonburg, with Bob Chesney taking over as head coach. The roster looks dramatically different from 2023, too, but the Dukes still have Sun Belt title aspirations. In 2024, that means JMU also has College Football Playoff aspirations.

The Dukes are also in need of a new offensive line coach – they’re reportedly targeting former Holy Cross coordinator and New York Giants assistant Chris Smith – with Damian Wroblewski’s expected departure for Maryland.

Hectic is an understatement when describing the last six months for JMU football. As spring practices begin, here are three major questions we’re asking about the Dukes.

Editor’s note: Thanks to Christopher William Jewelers for their advertising support.

How will the roster change?

The Dukes added a boatload of transfers this offseason, including Dylan Morris at quarterback. With a new coach coming in, there’s a decent chance JMU has additional departures during or after spring football concludes. It’s likely some guys won’t mesh with the coaching staff or might want a chance at more playing time elsewhere.

I’m particularly interested in monitoring the offensive line, as Wroblewski was beloved by the players. It’s certainly possible linemen could be interested in joining him at Maryland following the spring, if there are open roster spots with the Terrapins.

The spring football transfer window opens on April 15 and closes on April 30, giving players 15 days to enter. JMU’s spring game is on April 20.

While players might depart the program in the next month, the transfer portal works both ways. Chesney and company should learn during the spring which position groups, if any, need additional help via the portal. On paper, safety looks like a group that could use a veteran addition.

Spring football helps coaches learn more about their rosters, and given the roster and coaching turnover, it’s an important period for JMU to learn about its strengths and weaknesses.

Is Morris clearly QB1?

On paper, Morris is JMU’s likely starting quarterback in 2024. The Washington transfer was productive in 2021, and he has an impressive arm. He processes the field well, and he’s far more experienced than any other quarterback in JMU’s quarterback room.

The same was true for Jordan McCloud in 2023, however, and he didn’t win the starting job out of camp. McCloud quickly became QB1 going into Week 2 and eventually won Sun Belt Player of the Year, but it was redshirt freshman Alonza Barnett who won the job out of camp and started in Week 1.

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Barnett remains on JMU’s roster, and he’s joined by returners in Billy Atkins and Brett Griffis. JC Evans joins the team as a true freshman. Could any of those three younger players push Morris for the starting job? If they don’t, would any of them consider entering the portal? Barnett, Atkins, and Griffis are all capable of starting at lower G5 programs or FCS schools.

Morris looks like the clear-cut starter for the 2024 season, but could Barnett or another quarterback threaten for the job? And if Morris breaks away, would Chesney consider naming him the starter in the spring or could a competition last through the fall?

How’s the defensive back depth?

JMU retained cornerbacks D’Angelo Ponds and Chauncey Logan this offseason, and the Dukes added Holy Cross’ Terrence Spence in the portal. Those three players should play huge roles in 2024, and Ponds is one of the best young JMU cornerbacks since Jimmy Moreland excelled and became an NFL Draft pick. Spence isn’t listed on the spring roster – look for him to join the program over the summer – which opens up opportunities for younger cornerbacks over the next month.

Who might step up as CB4?

At safety, the Dukes lost a ton this offseason. They return Jacob Thomas, but lost key veterans at the position including Que Reid and Francis Meehan. There are plenty of underclassmen with potential, and Chesney and company will need to see if those youngsters are ready to play meaningful snaps in 2024.

Which players will step up at defensive back? Will the Dukes need to add a safety or two in the spring portal period? We should learn the answers to those questions in the coming weeks.

JMU added several standouts along its defensive line and at linebacker via the portal, but the Dukes were relatively quiet in adding defensive back help. It’s possible that could change in a month.

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