Scott Jones is getting a crash course in playing the offensive line at the I-AA level.
Jones, a redshirt freshman, is one of three rookies the James Madison coaching staff is counting on to fill the void left by the absence of three projected starters.
Jones, fellow redshirt freshman Matt Krout, and true freshman Matt Williams are being counted on to replace injured guards Brandon Monroe and Earl Watford, and right tackle Jerald Brown, who was ruled ineligible for his fifth year by the NCAA.
"We're all starting to get the hang of it," Jones, who has been lining up with the first team at right guard, said after Saturday's controlled scrimmage.
"We've only had two weeks of practice; now we have two more before our first game," said Jones. "But we're looking pretty good."
"I've got confidence in them, and they're going to have to step up," said senior quarterback Drew Dudzik.
Dudzik can relate. He spent two years backing up All-American Rodney Landers at quarterback, before being forced on the field when Landers was injured early in JMU's 2008 FCS semifinals loss to Montana.
"When you're the second string, you've got to prepare like you're the first string, because you never know what could happen," Dudzik said. "And I think they're going to do a good job for us."
"Those guys are going to be good players. They're just young," said head coach Mickey Matthews. "It's very difficult, when you lose three guys out of your top eight offensive linemen, that you're not going to have some problems."
Brown never practiced with the Dukes this summer while awaiting word whether he'd be cleared to play by the NCAA. He was ultimately declared ineligible earlier this week.
Monroe, who is a fifth-year senior like Brown, broke his right ankle during the team's August 14 scrimmage. Monroe had surgery on the ankle earlier this week, and is expected to be out through at least mid-season.
Watford, a third-year sophomore, had his knee scoped Friday. He's expected to miss up to four weeks, though Matthews says Watford hopes to be back for JMU's September 4 opener against Morehead State.
"I don't know about all that," Matthews said. "But we're going to get Earl back, and it'll be good for us."
Williams, who was all-state as a high school senior in Pennsylvania last fall, has filled Watford's left guard spot.
"He's a good athlete. He just weighs 260 pounds. He's not very big," Matthews said. "Certainly he got manhandled out there a few times today, but he's fine."
Jones admits to feeling pressure as the regular season approaches. But he also says he's "so much more comfortable" than he was a week ago.
"We've watched film for countless hours this week and last week, and practiced so much," he said. "It's getting a lot easier for us."
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