Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

SPORTS >>Devils’ intra-squad goes well

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils held their annual preseason intra-squad scrimmage Saturday night, and looked good doing it. Enthusiasm from the coaching staff was tempered, but it was easy to see that things like 14-play scoring drives pleased head coach and offensive coordinator Mark Whatley, while three forced turnovers and three sacks were enough to leave defensive coordinator Rick Russell optimistic.

“We did some things that you can build on,” Whatley said. “Cameron made some good reads, and both quarterbacks threw the ball very well. It was a positive start, but there’s still a long, long way to go. One big thing is we’re definitely not in shape. There was an awful lot of huffin’ and puffin’ going on out there later on. We’re going to have to buckle down and work to improve that.”

Senior quarterback Cameron Hood engineered the game’s longest drive on the red team’s opening possession. The drive went 80 yards and included three third down conversions. Pass coverage by the white team’s defense was good, but Hood provided an element to Whatley’s spread offense that Jacksonville has not had since Whatley’s arrival. When the receivers weren’t open after all the check- offs, Hood tucked and ran, and did so three times for 28 yards.

He also found senior wideout Terrell L’Hrisse up the middle on third and nine. L’Hrisse caught the ball about 10 yards up field, broke a tackle and scampered another 16 yards for the longest completion of the drive.

A few players, Hood and L’Hrisse hooked up again, this time on first and goal from the nine-yard line. L’Hrisse ran the corner lob and made the catch in the corner of the end zone for the only touchdown of the scrimmage.

The White team had its moments, and one of the best was its first offensive play. Senior quarterback Thomas Blade threw a perfect strike, a high spiral that came down right into the hands of receiver Daron Wheeler for a 41-yard gain.

Blade also showed some running ability when he scrambled for nine yards on the next play. Two plays later on third and one, the quarterback draw was called, but linebacker Quinton Ezeagwula blew through the gap and put his helmet right on the ball about three yards in the backfield, forcing a fumble that the defense covered.

That put the White team back at the 20-yard line, and things weren’t quite as productive from there. One running play and a completion yielded no positive yardage. On third and 10, L’Hrisse flew untouched into the backfield and sacked Blade for a 16-yard loss.

Starting again at the 20, things began clicking again for the White offense. Running back Jeffrey Tillman picked up six yards on the option. Blade then found sophomore receiver Devin Featherston downfield for a 29-yard completion. Two plays later, Blade hit junior Cordero Shelton for 15 yards over the middle. Blade then gained 11 yards on a quarterback keeper, but the play was called back for holding.

The drive’s 15th and final play was a 10-yard completion to junior Butch Walker.

After the freshmen took the field for about 12 plays, the varsity Red squad went back on offense. They had another good drive going, but it ended at the goal line.

It started with a 15-yard scramble by Hood followed by a quick toss down the line of scrimmage to junior Stanley Appleby, who turned upfield for six yards. Hood was again forced to run after being unable to find a receiver, this time he picked up 19 yards. Again, Hood’s scramble was followed by a quick toss down the line to Appleby, who this time gained nine yards.
Marquis Simpkins’ number was then called. He caught an inverted screen pass and picked up 17 yards to the 14-yard line. On first down, a high lob pass was picked off by Wheeler, who returned out to the 16 before being chopped down by Appleby.

The White offense took over and Cordero Shelton started it off with a nine-yard reception. Terrell Brown then fumbled and sophomore Joey Gates recovered for the Red team.

Starting back at the 20, an incompletion was followed by a 9-yard scramble by Blade, but he was dropped for a 1-yard loss by Brayden Murray on a third and one draw.

On fourth down, Brown picked up four yards to convert the first down. Two more runs by Brown, one for four yards and one for seven, ended the scrimmage.

Russell, like Whatley, was pleased for the most part, but saw one thing lacking that is crucial to being a good defense.
“We have to tackle better,” Russell said. “We made some play on defense, got some sacks and a couple of fumbles, but we didn’t wrap up like we’ve been working on. We let a few guys get away that shouldn’t have. Overall though, it wasn’t bad for this time of year.”

Jacksonville will scrimmage against North Little Rock this Friday at Jan Crowe Stadium.