Working through the muck

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Blue Devils face 4A scrimmage, look for linemen to step up

By Chris Cannon

NEW TAZEWELL—Jellico High School had its hands full on Friday night, but head coach Ronnie Lasley was glad to see the progress his team had made.

Lasley — the team’s coach for only three weeks now — took the Blue Devils to Claiborne County High School to face off with the Bulldogs in a Class 4A vs. Class 2A battle.

Jellico fell in the scrimmage four scores to two, as the Blue Devils had a 50-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Peace and a safety to their credit.

“It was a good measuring stick for us,” Lasley said. “[Claiborne County] would be a much better team than nearly anybody we’ll play. Obviously, we have talent in our league, too, that’s going to be as good as them, if not better. It’s the fact that we held our own. They didn’t just walk all over us. I think that was a good sign for us.”

The Blue Devils are looking to build off two seasons with 1-9 records in 2012 and 2013, after having gone 0-10 in 2011.

Many players believe this is their year, and the scrimmage against the Bulldogs can only boost that momentum.

“We really needed it,” sophomore quarterback Tony Smith said. “It’s a lot different from practice, and it gives us the experience we need — especially playing a bigger school. It helps us a lot. I thought we did pretty good. We were playing a 4A school, and we’re only 2A. I thought it was a good fight. The coaches said we did good, so I’m happy with it. We’ll just go back to practice on Monday and work.”

However, both Smith and junior linebacker Jordan “Truth” Hammond said the team still has work to do.

The size and experience of Claiborne County should help, as they have a wider variety of talent to pick from, Hammond said.

“I think we did all right,” the junior said. “There’s still some stuff we’ve got to work on, like when they’ve got an over-balanced line. We’ve got to learn how to shift. We’ve got to work on wrapping up, because there were some big plays that we could have made if we’d wrapped up. I thought we did pretty good, other than that.”

Lasley said the one thing the program would have to work on was the offensive line.

Numerous times on Friday, Smith was being chased down in the backfield or running backs had no room to run.

“Our glaring weakness was in the offensive line,” the head coach said. “I’m not throwing rocks at our kids, but [Claiborne County] were just so much quicker in coming off the ball. They’re further along than we are right now.”

Claiborne County was stunting through the gaps, making it hard for the Jellico linemen to block their assignments.

However, Hammond, Kenny Elliott and Dillon Thomas each were able to find a few runs around the outside edge.

“It felt pretty good,” Hammond said. “I liked it, but we need to get our linemen on the same page as our backs. Without them, there’s not a game to be played without our linemen.”

“They were jamming anything we were trying to do on the inside,” Lasley said. “We had a couple good outside sweeps. Truth on a jet sweep looked really good. We may have to look at what we can get on the outside, then come back inside once we get them spread.”

Lasley told his team during the post-game huddle that between the first and second scrimmage is when a team makes the most improvements.

Jellico travels to Berea (Ky.) High School tomorrow at 6 p.m.

He said this week, though, he was going to focus on the line to get them better for that second scrimmage.

“I’ve got to find people that will come off the ball and hit people,” he said. “We can’t wait and catch people. If we do, they’re going to beat us to the gap. If we’re not getting off the ball, we might need to look another direction. I’m looking for five linemen that will come off the ball. It is what it is. If they’re going to play up there, they’ve got to get into somebody for us. I’ll throw the gauntlet to them this week in practice. I want five linemen that will block for me up there.”

Jellico has another factor to their advantage — the bye week.

The team’s off week is Week 0, meaning they have an extra week to prepare for the 2014 campaign and Tri-Cities Christian in Week 1.

“That’s very big for us,” Lasley said. “Coach Miller and myself — the kids are learning two different systems right now than what they saw last year. Getting that extra week — with the time that we had to come in and get it going — that’s very big for us.”

“Tri-Cities is coming to us,” Hammond said. “Last year, we rolled up there a long way. This year, they’re going to roll down here a long way to get their butts whipped.”