PORTAL — Portal will get a chance to see a lot of new faces in action tonight as the Panthers host Twiggs County in a preseason scrimmage at 7:30 p.m.
After a 2011 season that saw Portal come within a win of the GHSA state playoffs, there is plenty of rebuilding to do. Starting positions are still up for grabs as the Panthers work to replace 15 departed seniors — nearly half of last year’s roster.
“It’s been like trying to put together a big puzzle,” said Portal coach David NeSmith of the beginning of fall practice. “Not only did we lose a bunch of seniors, but with us being a smaller school, a lot of those guys that left were playing both ways. That leaves a ton of positions to fill.”
A Panthers squad full of underclassmen will get a chance to show what it can do tonight against the Cobras.
Unlike many preseason scrimmages that are very controlled and dictate where and when each team will have the ball, Portal and Twiggs will play four 12-minute quarters of football in normal game conditions, stipulating only that the junior varsity players will play in the third quarter.
With so many young and inexperienced players taking the field for the Panthers, NeSmith is taking things slow and looking at only the basics. He anticipates that many players will see time at several different positions and that the decisions on the final positioning and depth charts will be made closer to the beginning of the regular season.
Still, there are plenty of things that NeSmith expects out of his team tonight.
“Our offensive line is one of the areas that we’ve had to make the most replacements,” NeSmith said. “I want to see that they are executing like we have been practicing. It’s one thing when there are coaches on the practice field and we can make adjustments. (Tonight) they have to do things on their own.”
Defensively, it’s a whole new ballgame for all of the Panthers. Portal has switched its schemes around and even the returning players are learning new positions and assignments.
Over the last few years, the Panthers have been known for their intimidating front seven on defense. The personnel will be different in 2012, but they are hoping for similar results.
“The biggest thing is to make sure that we’re reading plays on defense,” said NeSmith. “I want to see all eleven guys lining up right and flying to the ball.
“We know that we’re going to be a little smaller this season. We’ll probably be smaller up front in most of our games. We just need to utilize our speed and be in the right position to make plays. That’s something that we need to start doing starting with our scrimmage.”
Following tonight’s scrimmage, the Panthers will resume fall practice leading up to their season opener against Southeast Bulloch on Aug. 31.
This season marks the third consecutive year that Portal and SEB have played each other in the first game of the season, with the Yellow Jackets winning in 2010 and the Panthers claiming a 9-0 victory last season.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.