ASU receiver Ronnie Tubbs, left, catches a pass thrown by quarterback Stanley Jennings during Saturday’s preseason scrimmage. (Photo by firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY -- The Albany State football team had its first 11-on-11 scrimmage Saturday afternoon, and coach Mike White said the Rams still have a long way to go before they are ready for the Sept. 3 opener against Savannah State.
But at least no one got hurt during the intrasquad scrimmage -- a major victory for the Rams given the amount of injuries that have already piled up this preseason.
"That's the big thing. That puts a smile on my face," White said about Saturday being injury-free. "I'm not sure if we are going to have any more 11-on-11 scrimmages. It's very risky, and it hurts right now when you are this thin."
The Rams, who enter the season tied for ninth in the AFCA Top 25 Division II Preseason Coaches' Poll, could be thinnest in the backfield, where the top running backs Kareem Hess and Jamaris Cooper possibly may miss most of the season with knee injuries. Hess, who was the projected No. 1 running back and the only returning rusher, will need knee surgery and miss significant time, and Cooper, Hess' would-be back-up, will miss the beginning of the season with an ACL injury.
That leaves senior Darryl Carey, junior transfer Nate Hoyte and Luther Edwards to pick up the slack in the backfield.
Offensive coordinator Uyl Joyner said Hess' injury -- the same type of injury that caused him to miss more than half of last season -- hurts the team both on the field and on the sideline.
"As a person, we are losing a great guy and a team player," Joyner said Saturday.
Joyner then added: "Hess is going to do everything you ask him to do, and he will give you 110 percent. You lose a great kid and you can't even talk about what he does on the field. He is a 10-times better player. We lost a lot when we lost him.
"We have running back by committee now. They are going to pull the load for us."
The running game was one of the bright spots on the field during Saturday's scrimmage, which pitted ASU's top offense against its top defense. Carey, who scored the only touchdown in the approximately 50-play scrimmage, rushed for 33 yards on eight carries, while Hoyte had 35 yards on five carries.
"I thought on offense we ran the ball pretty good," White said. "I was glad to see that. I think the film will be able to tell us a little bit better. I thought they would be a little bit further along in their execution against the defense than what we saw. But I liked the effort, and the camaraderie of everybody trying to go at everybody, which makes each side better."
While ASU's running game was right on pace with what the coaches expected, the passing game "took a step backward," Joyner said after the scrimmage.
"The passing game wasn't as crisp as it was early in camp," Joyner said. "But that is our defense. That's what they do. They disrupt stuff, so you kind of expect that to happen against our defense. I think if we lined up and played today, all of those guys would be ready. They will do their job."
ASU quarterback Stanley Jennings was 9-for-19 with 89 yards, and the reigning SIAC MVP completed passes to seven different receivers. Jennings, who is protected by a young and inexperienced offensive line, was sacked three times and said he struggled with the pass rush.
"We still have a lot of stuff to work on. Urgency needs work and running toward the ball and being more focused. The biggest thing I need to work on is recognizing the blitz," Jennings said.
It was also Jennings' first time under center for an 11-on-11 game situation with Joyner as the offensive coordinator.
"He is pretty exciting," Jennings said about Joyner, who replaced Steve Smith this offseason. "He is all about winning. That's his motto. He isn't about big plays; he's about controlling the game clock. He is a pretty good coordinator."
Defensively, the Rams stood their ground for most of the scrimmage.
Senior outside linebacker and Westover graduate Josh Simpson recovered a fumble, which ended the offense's first drive and was the lone turnover forced by the defense.