HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Shawn Nelson has been a big target for Southern Miss quarterbacks and opposing defensive coordinators the past three seasons, but he expects that to change a little this season.
Nelson, whose career numbers include 104 receptions, 1,497 yards and 13 touchdowns, still plans on being a key figure in USM’s new spread offense, but doesn’t think he will draw as many double teams as he’s seen in the past.
And that’s a good thing for the 6-foot-5, 245-pound senior from Gonzalez, La.
“This offense is going to give me a lot more opportunities to catch the ball,” said Nelson, a first-team Conference USA selection a year ago when he caught 33 passes for 451 yards and five touchdowns.
“There’s going to be more opportunities for a lot of us. There are several options for the quarterback and there’s going to be a lot of single coverage. That’s something all of us can take advantage of.”
Nelson has led the Golden Eagles in receiving two of his first three seasons despite the extra attention from defensive coordinators.
Last year he was the second-leading receiver behind redshirt freshman Torris Magee, who pulled down 44 passes for 632 yards and three touchdowns. He sees even more help this season with the return of redshirt junior Gerald Baptiste, sophomore Johdrick Morris and the emergence of true freshman DeAndre Brown.
Spreading the ball around has been the theme of USM’s scrimmages. Five players had multiple catches in the first scrimmage and eight players caught at least two passes in the second scrimmage. Nelson had five receptions for 54 yards in the second scrimmage while the 6-foot-6 Brown has caught seven passes for 107 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“It’s great having guys out there that’s going to take some of the attention off me,” said Nelson. “It’s going to put a lot of pressure on the defense. That’s what this offense is supposed to do. The defense is going to have a hard time covering the whole field. If they make a mistake, we can make it a big play.”