With preseason scrimmages now a thing of the past, football teams from all around the state have now entered the home stretch of preparations as the regular season quickly approaches.
A handful of teams begin their season this Friday, but all four Bulloch County schools will start Aug. 31. During these next two weeks, the coaching staffs at Statesboro, Southeast Bulloch, Portal and Bulloch Academy will be pouring over footage from their scrimmages, trying to find strengths and weaknesses while devising a game plan for their first opponent.
Countless adjustments and tweaks will be made before the scoreboards turn on and the games begin to count, but the scrimmages from last week have offered a glimpse into what can be expected in 2012.
To say that the Blue Devils have a battle-proven game plan would be an understatement. This season’s Statesboro roster is full of kids who have known the type of team they’ll be playing for since their first days as middle schoolers in the Devils’ system.
SHS plays a constant in-your-face style of football that is content to battle opponents tooth and nail over a few yards of real estate, dust off the uniform, then go at it again dozens more times throughout the night. Whether it’s their powerful wishbone attack or their stout defense, the Devils are always prepared to grind out tough wins.
That will once again be the case this season as a few new faces arrive to shore up the defensive front and a deep stable of running backs returns on offense. Key to the Devils’ success this season will be the play of senior running back Quan Daniels.
As a sophomore, Daniels burst onto the scene in 2010 and garnered All-State honors while helping SHS reach the state semifinals. Last season, Daniels battled through injuries and was unable to be as big of a force down the stretch. He looks to be 100 percent – seemingly proving that point with a handful of flashy moves and big runs in the Devils’ scrimmage last week – and will be the go-to guy in the offense.
New quarterback Colin Chance also looked to be in top form in his first action as the starter. Chance’s ability to run the option gives Statesboro the ability to attack the edges of the field instead of relying solely on power. His two touchdown passes during the scrimmage were also encouraging and can bring balance to the play calling if needed.
The spot to watch for the Devils will be in the trenches. The offensive line has already been hit with a rash of injuries and the defensive line is a bit smaller than in years past. Statesboro must win the battles up front if it wants to continue to find success via its normal game plan.
Squaring off against Statesboro in its scrimmage last week, Southeast Bulloch held its own for much of the night. The Yellow Jackets don’t have the size and speed of the Devils and certainly haven’t had the same success – the Jackets are just 3-27 in the past three years – but they showed signs of great improvement.
The offensive line full of sophomores that had struggled to make holes throughout 2011 is now a veteran front of juniors that were able to provide running lanes for a trio of talented SEB running backs. The biggest concern right now is for the passing game, which produced as many interceptions (two) as completed passes during the scrimmage.
The Jackets should be a bigger offensive threat this season, but still lack the ability to break big plays at a moment’s notice. To win games, they will have to play mistake-free football and take their points where they can.
Despite giving up a number of big plays, the SEB defense also looked much improved in the scrimmage. The Jackets faced a sizable disadvantage in speed, but were able to contain Statesboro’s talented runners and minimize damage.
SEB wore down a bit as the night went on, but the Jackets won’t have to face many teams with the size and depth of Statesboro during its Class AAA schedule.
Yellow Jacket coach Pat Collins – now entering his third season – knows that his team is still a work in progress, but is also convinced that brighter times are coming for SEB.
Less than a year removed for one of the biggest turnarounds in the area, Portal will have to do it again in 2012.
Under the guidance of first-year head coach David NeSmith, last year’s Panthers caught fire midway through the 2011 schedule and finished in a three-way tie for their sub-region title. But those wins are a thing of the past – as are the high school careers of 15 Portal seniors that are no longer there to help.
Replacing nearly two-thirds of his starters on both sides of the ball, NeSmith has had one of the toughest offseasons around. Going into last week’s scrimmage against Twiggs County, NeSmith admitted that things would likely still be up in the air even after the scrimmage, but he had to be pleased with some of what he saw.
With freshman and sophomores scattered all over the field, Portal made its share of mistakes, but stayed competitive in a 12-7 loss. Casey Jones and Larry Hough performed well as running backs in the Panthers’ wishbone attack and freshman quarterback Tyler Budget tossed a touchdown pass for Portal’s lone score.
Showing the defensive resilience that has been a Portal calling card for the last few years, the Panthers allowed some big passing numbers to be put up, but limited the damage on the scoreboard and even forced a red zone turnover.
For a team that will be so young and inexperienced at so many positions, the only way that they will learn is with on the job training. The Panthers have tough tests early on the schedule, but are helped by the fact that sub-region play doesn’t start until Oct. 15. By then, the young Panthers might have the experience to begin another run.
Much like Statesboro, so much of Bulloch Academy’s fate from year to year is how well it can execute its system. For the Gators, that means getting all of the reads and pitches right in their triple-option attack.
Last season, the Gators tried to change things up, incorporating an option offense that operated out of the I-formation. This season, the flexbone is back and it comes with plenty of experience.
Earlier in the summer, Bulloch coach Ronnie Hodges enlisted the help of a flexbone clinic. For three days, the Gators studied all of the nuances of the offense and practiced perfecting the timing that can make the offense so lethal when executed correctly.
The Bulloch attack figures to be stronger this season as a number of last year’s starting linemen not only return, but are also healthy. Injuries plagued both the offensive and defensive fronts for the Gators last season and were key factors in a couple of losses.
With the ability to control the trenches, the 2012 Gators hope to control the ball and play at their pace.
Bulloch will have to grow up fast defensively as its top three tacklers from last season have all departed. Finding a way to stop high-powered offenses is key for the Gators if they hope to put a halt to the recent trend of early exits from the state playoffs.
The well-oiled option machine will put up points, but Bulloch will have to be up to the challenge of a tough GISA Class AAA on both sides of the ball.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.