Tigers face unknowns

Published 5:52 pm Friday, June 17, 2011

The 2011 Demopolis High School football team will likely feature a bevy of unfamiliar faces and open opportunities.

The team began its march toward November this week as it with the process of learning new terminology and identifying who may be able to fill any number of holes on both sides of the ball.

“We’ve got 11 slots wide open,” Demopolis head coach Tom Causey said of the team’s defensive personnel.

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The Tigers’ top returners on that side of the ball are senior Neilson Renner and sophomore Tyler Merriweather.

Renner played defensive line and some linebacker for the Tigers over the last two seasons while Merriweather emerged as a solid outside linebacker near the end of his freshman season.

“Tyler Merriweather had a really good spring,” Causey said. “We’re expecting big things out of him in our outside linebacker spot.”

Causey noted there were a handful of players who had strong spring performances and have an opportunity to seize playing time with continued progress in the summer and fall.

Chief among that group may be Ted Williams, who logged playing time at safety as a junior and has a chance at starter as a senior.

Other spring standouts include newcomer Jace Rivas at the nose guard spot, senior Cameron Wells at inside linebacker and sophomore Wil Logan at outside linebacker.

Those players and a host of others will have an opportunity to take starting spots on a defense that graduated nine seniors as the Tigers ready to begin summer practice.

“We’ve got to have leadership on offense, defense and in the kicking game,” Causey said. “We’re going to (need) leadership on our football team. We’ll start out looking for seniors because this is their last go-round. Then we will start looking for anybody on our football team for leadership.”

Causey said the most important thing his players can do is improve. The Tigers graduated a lot of experience from their 2010 team, leaving a heavy burden on those who remain.

“With the inexperience we have on both sides of the football, we’re going to have to get better at what we do each day,” Causey said.

The burden on the offensive side of the ball is eased slightly by the presence of three senior offensive linemen. The highest profile player among that group is Steven Foster, a South Alabama commit who has also received offers from Duke and Memphis among others. He will be joined by fellow returning starters Taylor Polk and Johnny Morgan.

“We lost two starters on the offensive line,” Causey said. “We’ve got to find guys to fill those holes. (The offensive line has) got to be the leaders of our football team. We’ll go as they go. They’ve got a lot of weight on their shoulders with a new quarterback and a new fullback.”

Strong offensive line play will likely be even more important for Demopolis in 2011 than in previous years as the Tigers can no longer rely on now-graduated backfield veteran DaMarcus James.

“We’ve got a big spot to fill with losing DaMarcus James,” Causey said. “We’ve got James Wilson, Tre Dotson, Demetrius Kemp and Rashad Lynch competing there. Those are guys that we’ve got to find a leader out of that group at those positions.”

That quartet will compete for the fullback and A-back spots in an offense lacking experienced skill players.

On the edge, Rodney Harper will offer the biggest frame and the most experience while Kemp figures to be among the leaders at the A-back spot if his development continues.

Calling the signals for the team could be any number of players as a handful of Tigers took snaps during spring drills. The favorite to take the bulk of the snaps is likely Tucker Jones, who served as Ben Pettus’ primary backup over the last two seasons before sustaining injuries that kept him out for the latter half of the 2010 campaign.

Regardless of who fills which roles, Causey said the emphasis will be basics this offseason, a philosophy not altogether unlike previous summers.

“I think you’ve got to start there whenever you start over,” Causey said. “You don’t assume they know anything. You don’t move onto the next thing until you get (alignment and stance) down pat.”

The Tigers are scheduled to participate in a team camp at Hillcrest High in Tuscaloosa June 20 before going to a 7-on-7 at Holt July 21.

The Tigers will engage in competition with Sweet Water twice in the final week of July.