— UNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Alabama A&M is replacing its two biggest offensive playmakers for the first time in awhile.
The Bulldogs must replace 33-game starting quarterback Deaunte Mason and all-time leading rusher Kaderius Lacey. They're also trying to rebound from a disappointing finish to a 7-4 season after opening with six straight wins for the first time since 1966.
Coach Anthony Jones says the Bulldogs "aren't lowering our bar" for the successors to the two offensive stars.
Last year's backup Brandon Wells had the early edge in a four-man race to replace Mason. Brendon Johnson ran for 257 yards but was limited in the offseason with an injury.
The Bulldogs also must replace leading tackler Vernon Marshall.
Five things to watch as Alabama A&M tries to rebound this season:
1. FINDING LEADERS: Losing Mason and Lacey creates a leadership void for the offense. Jones says that ability to lead is a key ingredient in the quarterback competition.
2. RECEIVERS: Whoever wins the quarterback job should have several strong targets. Montaurius Smith had 45 catches, Rashaad DeJarnett 31 and Terrance Pride 18 last season.
3. LINE LOSSES: The Bulldogs lost three starters from the defensive line. Gone from the offensive side are three all-conference picks. Left tackle Jamaal Johnson-Webb signed an NFL free agent deal with Arizona.
4. BY COMMITTEE: Jones predicts the Bulldogs will switch to a running back by committee approach. Brandon Eldemire and Ball State transfer Barrington Scott are also candidates for plenty of carries.
5. PRESEASON HONORS: Smith, offensive lineman Justin Goodrich, defensive end Reginald Bailey and defensive back Derrick Harris are all preseason second-team All-SWAC picks.
Predicted finish in SWAC East: Third.