Eagles coach Danny Cronic said that with so many injured players on the roster, reaching the off week should rejuvenate the team and give injuries time to heal.
“We are really playing to get to that open week, get refreshed and get our legs back up under us,” Cronic said.
Still, standing between the Eagles (3-2) and that much-needed rest is this afternoon’s game cross-divisional Mid-South Conference game in Barbourville, Ky., at Union College (1-3).
As it did in each of the past three games, Reinhardt will use a patchwork lineup. So far, it’s worked well for the Eagles, who are on a three-game winning streak, but it might be a bit more complicated this week as they lost one of their most consistent players.
Quarterback Johnathon Chamblee, who had started each game this season, suffered a separated shoulder midway through last week’s 41-36 win over Bethel. Ryan Thompson, who split time with Chamblee through first four games, took over under center, finishing the game 4-of-6 for 32 yards and an interception.
Thompson is the obvious choice to start today, but he isn’t the only option for Reinhardt.
Former Cherokee High School quarterback Dylan Haynes spent much of the season penciled in next to Thompson on the depth chart. Before the Eagles’ game against Faulkner on Sept. 21, Haynes began practicing at fullback because that position had been depleted by injuries. Against Bethel, he played several series at the position, even picking up some key first downs.
Haynes, however, is no longer listed at fullback. What’s more, according to Cronic, is that he’s a real option at quarterback.
“He’ll be a full-time quarterback now,” Cronic said.
Cronic did not go as far as to say who would be getting the start at quarterback today. The Eagles have also experimented with other players at the position, such as Alec Rubin and even receiver Aaron Kennedy.
In some ways, Cronic said, the plan for today’s game is fluid, with the ability to change based on how the players respond.
“There will be a lot of adjusting on the fly,” he said. “A lot of the offense is very detailed, but when the game starts and the defense is different than you thought it would be, you have to adjust on the go.”
Each week, injuries have shifted Reinhardt’s lineup and, in some cases, altered the game plan. All too often this season, Cronic has said that’s just part of playing football at this level.
“My focus has been so much on us,” Cronic said. “Who we can play has been a lot of the focus this week and just trying to figure that out.”
Often, Cronic has said that he hasn’t learned as much about each week’s opponent as he would have liked to, because so much time has had to go into who he could put on the field the next week.
One area of strength for Reinhardt this season has been its kickoff return team. Two players — L.J. Stegall and Travis Nunley — have returned kickoffs for touchdowns.
Stegall did so in the Eagles’ season opener against Mercer, while Nunley ran a kick back 100 yards last week in front of a home crowd. Nunley’s run was enough for him to be named the Mid-South’s Special Teams Player of the Week.
Reinhardt will also look to defensive tackles Ray Hodges, Trey Bartlett, Justin Robinson, Johntre Gunn and Lenard Robinson to have big games inside.
“I don’t know if it’s just freshmen or what, but we sure get injuries at this level,” Cronic said. “It’s all about how fast you heal and who you have to back up. We have been able to sub and keep it going, but I don’t know where that limit is. We sure are playing for that bye week.”
Reinhardt’s upcoming week off coincides with fall break for the university, with a three-day break from classes beginning Wednesday. Cronic hopes to give many players that time off.
It will also allow the coaches to get some time with their families — some of whom still live several hours away.
“We have one family still in Savannah, one in Greenville (S.C.), one in Newnan,” Cronic said. “We haven’t been able to send (the coaches) home since August, so it will be a nice break. We are looking forward to it. We are just hoping we can finish it up with a nice win against Union.”