When the Statesboro Blue Devils take the field for their 2012 season opener on Aug. 31, they’ll be gunning for a third-consecutive region championship. During their recent run, the Devils have been known for their powerful and relentless running game.
That will be Statesboro’s bread and butter again this season, but before running backs can break off big gains, the offensive line will have to once again become a dominant force in the trenches.
“It’s no secret where we hang our hat on offense,” said SHS coach Steve Pennington. “We’re going to run the ball. We have a good power running game and we can run with speed to the outside and in the option. Either way, the blocking up front has to be there before anything else can happen.”
The importance of good blocking up front grows even more when you consider that Statesboro commits almost half of its offensive players to the line on many plays within their double-tight end wishbone attack.
Three linemen — as well as All-State tight end Freddie Burden — are gone from the 2011 squad. Replacing that sort of talent and leadership is crucial heading into the new season.
“One benefit for us is that we have our center returning,” Said Pennington of Justin McBride. “Any good line needs to have a good anchor at the center position. That’s something that Justin can provide for us. Nothing we try to do works until we get a good center to quarterback exchange.”
Two other big components of the Devils’ blocking scheme will bookend the line. From their offensive tackle positions, Quasi Murphy and John Underwood will be depended on to kick out linebackers on inside runs, seal off defensive ends when plays head towards the sideline, and keep quarterback Colin Chance upright on pass attempts.
With hints that the option might play a larger part in this season’s Blue Devil attack, strength and athleticism throughout the line will be vital.
“There’s a misconception that all of the best athletes on the field are the ones that throw and catch and run with the ball,” Pennington said. “It’s hard to really grasp how much linemen have to do within a small window of space and time. It’s not just about pushing the guy in front of you. Our linemen have to have the agility, flexibility and quickness to adjust to what the defense does on any given play and still accomplish their assignment.”
Pennington says that there are about 10 Devils that can hold a spot on the line, but also has some concerns about depth. The returning seniors have plenty of talent, but Statesboro has a relatively small junior class on the roster, leading to a sizable gap between the abilities of the upperclassmen and some Devils that will be getting their first taste of varsity action.
To combat this possible problem, the Devils’ linemen are working hard to master different positions on the line. The subtle intricacies of individual positions throughout the line are important to know for a team that depends so heavily on the ability to run the ball and control the clock. By coaching its linemen to be interchangeable at several spots, Statesboro will be able to make itself less susceptible to injuries as the season wears on.
With players of varying size making up the depth chart this season, that flexibility will also be a weapon when the Devils switch up their play calling.
“We have some big guys, but there are also some that can pull hard and get downfield,” Pennington said. “Hopefully, we can mix and match to create packages for our linemen to match what we’re trying to do on a given play.”
In full pads since the start of this week, the Devils are going full force in preparation for the season.
Statesboro gets its first dress rehearsal against Southeast Bulloch in a scrimmage on Aug 16. The Devils open their season at Lakeside, Evans August 31 in Augusta.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.