Cronic said the time for practice is over.
“We can’t do any more at this point,” he said. “We need to play.”
When Reinhardt and Mercer met last year, the result was a combined 77 points. The 37 points the Eagles put on the board that night was just the beginning. They went on to average more than seven touchdowns per game for the season.
The only problem was the defense, which gave up more points on four occasions. That’s where Cronic hopes things are different this year and that begins in Macon.
“Now, we are going to be in a 3-5 (formation), which is a reconfiguration of what we have been doing,” Cronic said. “Hopefully, that will help us.”
Cronic said one of the reasons Reinhardt changed to the 3-5 was that teams he has coached would have trouble blocking defenses operating that system.
“It seems to fit us,” Cronic said. “It seems to be easier to recruit linebackers than it is to get big defensive linemen.”
When it comes to recruiting, Reinhardt often found itself going up against Mercer for the same talent. Mercer is the only other program from Georgia that the Eagles will face, so Cronic said it’s the only time they get to face a large group of players that they are familiar with.
Not only that, but many of Reinhardt’s players have played members of Mercer’s roster.
“We are probably 95-percent state of Georgia people,” Cronic said. “Their quarterback (John Russ), we recruited real hard also. He is from Mill Creek, and that is where (Reinhardt linebackers coach) Tommy Scott was. The (Alex) Lakes kid and the (Payton) Usher kid were playing at Northgate when I was coaching at East Coweta, so we are aware of them and what they can do.”
Cronic plans to continue the use of a two-quarterback system against Mercer, with Johnathon Chamblee and Ryan Thompson sharing snaps.
“I plan for both of them to get in,” Cronic said. “If one of them gets a hot hand and is going good, then I’m going to be a little hesitant to change, but they are rated pretty close together.”
L.J. Stegall, who made himself a star in last year’s season opener, when he scored three touchdowns, each in a different way, will continue to be a go-to player.
“We got a steal with L.J.,” Cronic said. “He’s fast, and he’s got a lot of running instincts. If we can get him on the corner, we like to do that. He was voted the conference offensive player of the year last year. I think he had 17 touchdowns. He’s exciting. I like to watch him run.”
While Cronic may like to watch Stegall run, he doesn’t plan to watch as many fullbacks take the field as last year. The Eagles used nine different fullbacks, and it all began at Mercer when touted recruit Ian McIntosh lasted only a play.
From there, Reinhardt struggled to keep anyone in the position healthy for long.
McIntosh, Niagel Curtis and P.J. Green are expected to play at Mercer.
As much as Reinhardt may have gone through changes, Mercer has seen even more.
After spending their inaugural season in the non-scholarship Pioneer League, the Bears are now in the Southern Conference, one of the top leagues in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision. The Bears have also added such skill players as Lakes, a running back who transferred from Air Force Prep.
Because Reinhardt opted not to swap film with Mercer prior to the game, the Eagle coaching staff is left to finding out information from the media.
“We kind of read the papers, but we really don’t know about the new guys they got,” Cronic said. “It’s going to be a little bit situation for us.”
In addition to sophomore running backs JeTarii Donald, Usher and Russ, Mercer returns tight end Robert Brown, punter J.T. Palmer and place-kicker Tyler Zielenske, who were all named to preseason watch lists at their respective positions.
Mercer has also added transfers from South Carolina State, Tennessee and Air Force.
“I don’t know exactly what they are going to bring to it. and how you prepare for that, I don’t know,” Cronic said. “We are anxious to see some of that, too, just not too much of it.”