And while avoiding those physical injuries remain important, the specter of COVID-19 is hanging around as the X-factor. There’s the danger that one positive test could wipe out an entire position room from competition.
“You’ve got to stay healthy,” Elliott said. “In this day, whatever you’re dealing with, you never know what you’re going to have week-to-week. This will be the most unpredictable season and the teams that get the luckiest between testing and injuries are going to the teams standing at the end.”
Grow a quarterback
The Panthers got spoiled to have Ellington in the lineup for two years. Not only was he an elite player, his knowledge of the game was exceptional (that’s one reason he’s on the coaching staff this fall) and he was unquestionably the team leader. He left some big shoes to fill.
The new quarterback will be Quad Brown, a redshirt freshman who played four games a year ago. Brown has great physical attributes (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) and a big arm. It would be unfair to ask Brown to do all the things that Ellington could do so well, but he’ll need to grow up in a hurry.
“He’s got the tools to run the ball and he’s got a big, strong arm,” Elliott said. “He’s got a fantastic arm and he can really cover some ground with those long legs. And he’s got a lot of confidence; Quad’s a confident guy. We just felt like he’s going to be the guy to start.”
Fortunately for him, there is plenty of experience returning at the other offensive positions. He will be working behind an experienced offensive line and has the benefit of depth at running back, receiver and tight end.
Leverage the experience of offensive line
Georgia State has one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country. Four of the five starters return and they’ve all played a bunch. The foursome has combined to make 87 starts, 37 of them by left guard Shamarious Gilmore (6-3, 295), a first-team All-Sun Belt choice a year ago.
The only other change was to move Travis Glover (6-6, 330) to the left tackle spot left vacant by the graduation of four-year starter Hunter Atkinson. The other returnees are Travis Glover (6-6, 330) at left tackle, Malik Sumter (6-1, 280) at center and Pat Bartlett (6-4, 285) at right guard.
“Those four have got some really solid experience with one another,” Elliott said. “Throw in the starter at right tackle and you’ve got a solid group.”
Create more turnovers
The Panthers ranked fourth in the Sun Belt with creating 17 turnovers a year ago, eight fumbles and nine interceptions. Elliott would like to see both numbers increase. Appalachian State led the conference with 24.
The rise of such disruptive players as safety Antavious Lane and end Jeffery Clark may be helpful in reaching that goal. Both have established themselves as turnover creators in practice and scrimmages.
“You always go out and preach turnovers and try to create turnovers,” Elliott said. “Those turnovers tell a lot about a season.”
Answer the questions about special teams
Last season the Panthers had a solid punter in Brandon Wright, who made the Jacksonville Jaguars' practice squad. His booming kicks will be missed; he averaged 41.9 yards per punt. Wright also handled the place-kicking, but was less dependable, particularly from longer ranges.
The Panthers will have a new pair of specialists this year. Noel Ruiz, a graduate transfer from North Carolina A&T, was an FCS All-America. Ruiz made 23 of 27 field goals and led FCS kickers with 1.92 field goals per game.
Punter Michael Hayes is a redshirt freshman was tutored by Wright. Originally recruited as a placekicker, Hayes has developed into an outstanding punter. He has the option of rugby-style punts and is capable of kicking with either foot.