Pats look to fill physical, emotional voids

Published 9:58 pm Friday, May 8, 2009

The Patriots are five days into their AHSAA allowed 10 days of Spring football activity. In that time, Andro Williams has been able to begin the process of getting a handle of exactly where his team is and what it must do to reach where he believes it must go.

“We want to just try to get better. We want to be better at the end of Spring than when we started,” Williams said. “We’re trying to identify leaders and get some folks to step up.”

The Patriots are fresh off a 13-1 season that saw them run as high at No. 3 in the Class 1A polls before their season ended in the semi-finals of the state playoffs against Sweet Water.

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While the season likely elevated the expectations surrounding the program, Williams said there are certain key components his team must discover in order to make a similar run in 2009.

“We’ve really been working on our practice intensity and trying to develop some leaders. We’re going to have problems making the playoffs if we don’t get any,” Williams said. “Our kids know the expectations. They’ve just got to focus on the now and forget about the last two years.”

Much of the 2008 squad’s intensity and leadership departed with the senior class that is only weeks away from spending its final days in the hallways of Linden High School.

“We’re not going to replace those guys. They’re not replaceable,” Williams said of players such as Maurice Tate and Shantrell Braxton. “All we can do is take our guys and help them grow up fast and let them do the job with their own style.”

The highest profile position that remains vacant is the quarterback spot formerly inhabited by Ajalon Bruno.

“We’ve got two guys in competition for quarterback,” Williams said.

The battle to claim the Patriots’ signal-caller position is a two-man race between soon-to-be freshman Anthony Robinson and upcoming junior Gerald Bruno.

Robinson took the bulk of the snaps as the Pats primary backup last season and figures to have an advantage in terms of game experience at the position.

“He’s got to get a little more arm strength, but he’s executing our offense really, really well,” Williams said of Robinson.

In the younger Bruno, Williams sees a number of intangibles he believes could help the rising sophomore secure the job.

“He’s a born leader,” Williams said. “Last year he started for us at wingback all year. He did such a great job for us over there. He’s real versatile. He can play quarterback and the wing. He’s throwing the ball better this Spring. He’ll be able to get it done.”

As for the Patriots’ primary weapon on the edge, incumbent Larente Taylor is contending with Nagee Bright to claim the position. As for the remainder of the LHS skill positions, a cast of players will likely rotate through the backfield.

Julian Little, Keiunta Goodwill, Rashad Hollins, Jasper Hood and Kendall Allen have each split carries at the running back and fullback spots vacated by Tate and Braxton.

However, perhaps the most important cog in Williams’ physical offensive scheme has yet to be solidified. The Pats lost two starters from the offensive line that helped lead it to the semi-finals.

“We’re just trying to find the right people and the right spots,” Williams said of an O-line group he considers deeper than its 2008 predecessor. “We’ve actually got a little bit of depth on the offensive line. We’ve just got to identify who is going to go in there and help us the most.”

Defensively, the Patriots have a number of holes to fill. The down linemen return only two starters while the linebacking corps features only one.

“We actually don’t have bed depth there,” Williams said of his defensive front seven. “But we don’t have a whole lot of game experience.”

In the linebacking corps, the Pats figure to rely heavily upon the growth of Terris Lewis.

“He’s gotten stronger in the weight room,” Williams said of Lewis. “He’s going to have to lead our football team from a linebacker spot. He’s going to have to bring some intensity and make plays. But he’s been working hard.”

Lewis will be joined at an LB spot by Justin Tinsley, who started for LHS as a safety in 2008.

“Justin Tinsley, he’s one that’s gotten stronger and shown us some intensity,” Williams said. “He’ll have a good year for us.”

Allen and Tony Hill also figure to play key roles in the Pats linebacking group.

The secondary returns only starters Taylor and Gerald Bruno. While clear cut starters will not be identified for some time, Williams expressed his confidence that players such as Robinson and Bright will find the ability to lean on their game experience to help provide depth in the unit.

Regardless of where his team is on May 15, it will head to Thomasville for its final day of Spring activity.

“We’re just looking to go down there and compete and be physical and try to match their intensity,” Williams said of the contest with THS. “they run an offense similar to what we do and they are going to help us work on our stuff.”