Coaches and players talk leadership and strategy at Panthers’ preseason conference

In the final day prior to players reporting to training camp for the upcoming football season, Georgia State coaches and players took to the podium for a preseason press conference at the team’s practice facility to talk about leadership roles and how to improve from last year.

“We’ve changed our expectations from teaching them to compete to teaching them to compete to win,” Head Coach Trent Miles said. “They expect to compete to win football games every time they step on the football field. I can’t say that was the case in the past.”

If the Panthers are going to win any games this season, one way to do that can be to make the offense more multi-dimensional. Georgia State was ranked third in the Sun Belt Conference in passing offense last year, but at the bottom of the conference in running the football. The team barely averaged over 100 yards on the ground in 2013.

“We have to run the ball better,” Miles said. “We don’t have a choice. We have to go out and establish a run game to take pressure off of the receivers and the quarterback. It’s very hard when you’re one-dimensional. Last year we should have called it ‘Albert Wilson-dimensional’. We don’t have that luxury this year and have to establish a running game.”

With Albert Wilson graduating and entering the ranks of the NFL by signing with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Panthers’ passing game will likely be focused on Robert Davis, who caught 44 passes for 711 yards and four touchdowns in 2013.

“I expect to see a little bit more attention from opposing defenses at the beginning of the season, but we have a lot of great receivers,” Davis said. “When you have receivers all over the field that can make plays at all times, you can’t double-team all of them. We have a really explosive receiving corps that will make defenses have to change what they do.”

Miles told the media in attendance that Davis had a sprained ankle. Another one of his receivers, red-shirt sophomore Dexter Andrews, is recovering from surgery on his torn ACL.

Davis and the rest of the Panthers’ receiving corps will most likely be catching passes from Nick Arbuckle, the junior college transfer from California. At Sun Belt Media Day in New Orleans, Miles reiterated that Arbuckle would be the starting quarterback, but that a final decision will not be made until the team goes through its preseason training camp.

“[Nick] Arbuckle is someone who brings leadership and intangibles,” offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski said. “As soon as he arrived here, he started watching film and establishing himself as a leader among our team.”

The offensive line had been one of the Panthers’ problems last season. The Panthers allowed 32 sacks for a loss of 189 yards in 2013. The struggles of the offensive line also translated into the running game’s woes the previous season.

“Hearing that aspect of what happened last year from the coaches every day can get under your skin a little bit,” senior guard A.J. Kaplan said. “But we take pride in running the ball and as an offensive lineman you want to run the ball to open up the passing lane.”

Defensively, there is plenty of room for improvement. Georgia State was ranked seventh in the conference in total defense the previous season, giving up over 460 yards a game.

“Our defense is hungry, enthusiastic and is eager to win games this year,” defensive coordinator Jesse Minter said. “No one has higher expectations for our defense this year than me and our players.”

Among the focal points for the defense in 2014 is Joseph Peterson. He had 103 tackles the previous season and was the only member of the Panthers’ defense to notch at least 100 tackles. Peterson said that now that he is a junior, he sees himself as a veteran on a young team and is ready to take on a leadership role.

“I accept the leadership role. It’s awesome,” Peterson said. “The guys are going to listen to me. They give me great feedback and they push me to be the leader so that helps a lot.”

Another name that should get plenty of attention on the defense is sophomore Shawayne Lawrence. He only had 25 tackles in 11 games the previous season and didn’t turn 18 years of age until the final week of last year. At the press conference, Lawrence set a lofty goal for himself.

“I not only want to be the best lineman on the team, but the best lineman in the Sun Belt,” Lawrence said. “That means being the most dominant, the most mentally ready and the most physical.”

Georgia State will start off the college football season at home against Abilene Christian in a nationally televised matchup on ESPNU on Wednesday, August 27.