Leader Blues

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

SPORTS >> Coach gets just what he wants out of scrimmage

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville stuck to coach Mark Whatley’s script in more ways than one Saturday.

Not only did the Red Devils accomplish the coach’s checklist of plays during the Red and White scrimmage at Jan Crow Stadium but, with a handful of key players injured, they also avoided further harm.

“If we all got out of that healthy, I got my goals met tonight,” Whatley said. “Those things, they scare you. It’s like I try to tell them ‘If you play hard, you won’t get hurt.’ We played hard tonight.”

Whatley was forced to hold out defensive tackle Reggie Crudup and linebacker Don Crutchfield. Both have knee injuries and Jacksonville is awaiting the results of the players’ MRIs.

The Red Devils were also without senior wide receiver/defensive back Devin Featherston, who could miss anywhere from two to eight weeks because of a high ankle sprain.

“We need to get everybody healthy and get back going in the right direction,” Whatley said.

Featherston’s absence Saturday may have been the most conspicuous, because he might be the only player on Whatley’s extensive roster who could see action on both sides of the ball.

“He allows us to stretch the field a little bit more than we could tonight,” Whatley said.

Even with the injuries, Whatley had enough players to pit his offensive starters against his defensive first team and to throw his second-string offense against his backup defense.

Whatley hopes the specialization pays dividends when the Red Devils open 6A-East Conference play at Mountain Home on Sept. 25.

“That’s the first time since I’ve been here we’ve been able to do that,” said Whatley, entering his fifth season. “That’s a plus.

That’s one of those things you fight back and forth with. Hopefully it’s going to pay off by conference time where we’re going one way and we learn from our mistakes and get better.”

On Saturday, the Red Devils played four segments in which the defense appeared for the most part to have the upper hand while the offense chipped in the occasional big play.

“We didn’t even keep chains. We scripted everything,” Whatley said. “There was no down and distance. … We stayed pretty basic. Very basic.”

The first segment ended when sophomore defensive back D’Vone McClure hit junior Jon Johnson and forced a fumble after a completion of more than 20 yards from junior quarterback Logan Perry. Senior linebacker Joey Gates had the fumble recovery.

The backups posted the first score when, in the second segment, sophomore quarterback Tirrell Brown hit McClure, who out- jumped a defender for the catch that he turned into a touchdown play of more than 40 yards.

The starters were on the field for the final two segments. Perry connected with Johnson for a 40-yard gain on a swing pass to end the third segment and account for the offense’s last big play of the night.

Gates opened the fourth segment by sacking Perry, then Kenny Cummings had an over-the-shoulder interception of Perry’s long attempt to Price Eubanks on the next play.

The only other offensive big play was the 20-yard completion from Brown to McClure that opened the second segment.

No other play gained more than 10 yards and the scrimmage ended with a three-yard carry by senior running back Doug Sprouse out of the wildcat formation.

“The biggest thing they did is they tackled a lot better than they have leading up to tonight,” Whatley said of his defense. “We felt like they could. Another good sign is you see that many people running to the football. They had a lot of hats around the football and that’s a good thing because we feel like we have a chance to be pretty good on that side.”

The offense gave up its one sack and Perry was hurried on a blitz in the first segment, but otherwise, Whatley said, the offensive highlight was the protection.

“I thought our offensive line held up pretty good,” Whatley said. “They did a pretty good job. We’ve got to space the field better.”

All in all, Whatley said, the scrimmage went just as it was drawn up.

“It kind of turned out kind of like we expected it to,” he said.