Dukes Getting Healthy as Season Approaches

By: Damon Dillman Email
By: Damon Dillman Email

Just ten days ago, Earl Watford was having minor surgery on his right knee.

But the sophomore has been back on the field at practice at James Madison this week. And Watford says he expects to start Saturday's season opener against Morehead State.

"I'm back. I'm fully ready to go," Watford said Tuesday. "I don't think anything's going to stop me."

Head coach Mickey Matthews says a final decision on Watford's playing status won't be made until later this week.

Watford's surgery came just days after the Dukes lost a pair of fifth-year seniors, guard Brandon Monroe (broken ankle) and tackle Jerald Brown (academics), on the right side of the line. True freshman Matt Williams had been filling in for Watford at left guard.

"That played a huge part," said Watford. "I needed to get back. I feel that I'd be letting my team down by holding myself out."

"I think Earl's really pushing Theo Sherman to be our best offensive lineman," said Matthews. "Earl's had a great camp. He's blocking everything that moves. He's a very intelligent youngster. Right on the verge of being a very good football player."

Watford is one of a handful of Dukes who are getting healthy as the season kickoff approaches.

Fifth-year senior Ronnell Brown was a pre-season all-CAA pick on the defensive line. Bue he's missed most of the preseason because of a hamstring injury.

Brown said Tuesday that he was at "about 95 percent."

"I've been out all of camp. It's been frustrating for me," he said. "But it's good to be back and healthy, and practicing with my guys."

"Ronnell is a guy that's done it before. And certainly you need those guys," Matthews said. "He says he's okay, but I don't believe those hamstrings are secure until a guy takes off and runs full-speed."

And while Brown's been sidelined, some fresh faces on the defensive line, including junior Lamar Middleton and redshirt freshmen Tyler Snow and Jordan Stanton, have gotten Matthews' attention.

"He's being pushed. I'll be honest with you. He's being pushed," Matthews said. "We have some young guys on the defensive line that are really practicing well.

"If you watch tape, and you watch practice, all the plays those guys are making, it would hasten my return to the field," Matthews added.

Matthews also updated the status of senior running backs Griff Yancey (hip flexor) and Jamal Sullivan (high ankle sprain) Tuesday.

Matthews said Sullivan would be a game-time decision Saturday. And while Yancey is back to 100 percent, his coach stopped short of declaring him the starter at running back.

"I don't know. You all make a big deal out of who the starter is. They're all going to share time," Matthews said. "I guess it's a big deal, who goes out there the first possession of the game. But someone else will probably be there the second possession of the game. And in our eyes they're as much of a starter as the other guys."

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