Leader Blues

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

SPORTS >> Devils still have positions to fill

Leader sports editor

With a little less than two weeks to go before Jacksonville’s season opener at Cabot, head coach Mark Whatley still has some ‘help wanted’ signs posted.

The Red Devils came into the season with a slate of new positions up for grabs after the loss of several offensive linemen as well as all of their skill players other than quarterback Logan Perry. While Whatley thinks he has the fullback slot inked in, he has been using pencil at tailback and at left tackle.

Doug Sprouse, a defensive end a season ago, appears to have locked up the fullback position, while a sophomore and two juniors have shown varying degrees of inconsistency at the tailback slot that was vacated by graduating speedster Patrick Geans.

Jacksonville’s toughest replacement challenge will be at wide out, where the dynamic duo of 6-5 Demetrius Harris and cohort Terrell Brown terrorized6A-East secondaries in 2008.

Only Devin Featherstone returns with any experience, but Whatley feels pretty good about the receiving corps that is developing.

Still, with the loss of game-breakers Harris, Brown and Geans, the Red Devils may opt for more of a move-the-chains offense this fall, utilizing their backs in the passing game and relying on shorter routes.

In junior quarterback Logan Perry, Whatley figures he has the man to run the show. Whatley said Perry, who started all 11 games as a sophomore, has increased his arm strength noticeably, adding that Perry’s understanding of the offense is thorough.

“He’s threading it in there with the confidence you normally see in a senior quarterback,” Whatley said.

In a scrimmage last Friday, the offense moved the ball well on its first series, Whatley said, but the defense, which returns nine starters, pretty much took over after that.

“We’re not playing as well as we need to play,” Whatley said of his offense. “We’re just a little inconsistent. We had several second-and-fours and you have to be able to convert those. We’re not putting plays together.”

The defense, on the other hand, looks to be solid, especially up front and in the linebacking corps.

“That’s definitely our strength,” said first-year defensive coordinator Derek Moore, a former Razorback who takes over for long-time defensive coordinator and new North Pulaski coach Rick Russell.

Fifty-nine players came out for summer two-a-days, a pretty satisfying total, Whatley said. His plans are to play most of his players one way, with the exception of Featherstone, who will line up at wide receiver and at cornerback.

Whatley said he will likely have to rely heavily on sophomores on both sides of the ball and has Devon McClure slated to take over for Harris at safety. Harris was an all-stater a year ago and was tabbed The Leader’s defensive player of the year after racking up 145 tackles, four interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

Another sophomore, Michael Thornabar, appears to have nailed down one of the defensive end slots.

But with a young secondary — Terrell Brown was also a mainstay at cornerback — Whatley and Moore are counting on the front seven to pick up the slack.

“Yeah, we’re going to be aggressive up there,” Whatley said. “You’ve got to be.”

Whatley, his coaches and the fans will all get a better look at how it’s all coming together this Saturday evening when the Red-White scrimmage kicks off. The seventh grade will go at 5 p.m, followed by the eighth and ninth grades at 6. The varsity will kick off at 7.

Whatley said the first team offense will go against the first team defense, followed by the second teams and the third teams.

Each scrimmage will last only 15-20 plays, he said.