- Associated Press - Friday, August 14, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Brian Jenkins has had a steep learning curve with his Alabama State football team.

The new Hornets coach wasn’t able to hold spring practices because of low Academic Progress Rate performance under his predecessor, Reggie Barlow. Jenkins also said he only watched “a little bit of film” from last year’s team.

“We just haven’t had enough time to look into what they did last year,” he said. “We didn’t have spring ball so we had to make sure that we came up with some ways to creatively get the guys to understand our scheme. We couldn’t waste time on anything from the past.

“Our total concept and attitude was just to make sure that we introduced them to everything in our program and have them fully focused on our program.”

The Hornets aren’t eligible for the new Celebration Bowl featuring the champions from the Southwestern Athletic Conference and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference because of the APR scores.

Barlow was fired after going 7-5 in his eighth season. Jenkins led Bethune-Cookman to four MEAC titles and three FCS playoff berths in five seasons, going 46-14.

His first Alabama State team is picked to finish fourth in the five-team SWAC East. Jenkins wants his players to aspire well beyond that.

“There’s a lot of things they’ve got to learn to get this program to the next level,” he said. “They understand that being mediocre is not allowed, and we don’t believe in being mediocre as a coaching staff, and they’re going to learn to believe not to be mediocre as a football team.

“We’ve just got a lot of work to do to get to the next level. But they understand that being mediocre is unacceptable.”

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Some story lines to watch during Alabama State’s season:

STRONG DEFENSE: Jenkins’ Bethune-Cookman team led the nation in run defense last season, giving up 79.9 yards a game on the ground. The ASU defense will have a group led by linebackers Kourtney Berry, Daerius Washington and Deontrelle Silman.

QB COMPETITION: Two-year starting quarterback Daniel Duhart isn’t assured of keeping his job. Jenkins said every position is open for competition.

“People believe you should get one guy and go with him,” the coach said. “My belief is just a little bit different. I think if you can train a couple of them to operate your offense highly and be productive, you can always go to the next guy when the first guy you go with isn’t getting it done.”

BERRY GOOD: Berry is a two-time first-team All-SWAC performer who led the league in total tackles in each of his first two seasons, racking up 128 in 2014.

REPLACING CYRUS: The Hornets must find a replacement for SWAC co-offensive player of the year Malcolm Cyrus at running back. Backup Khalid Thomas gained 545 yards last season and is among the contenders. They’ll have All-SWAC blockers in Damian Love and Jylan Ware.

BIG-PLAY BELL: Whoever is quarterback will have a playmaker in receiver DeMario Bell, who averaged 22.3 yards on 28 catches last season. Jamir Hannah had 23 catches as a freshman.

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