Success on offense will begin up front with experienced line
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By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor email@example.com
LOGAN — Yes, the Logan Chieftains return a terrific quarterback, a standout wide receiver and a running back with breakaway speed and strength.
But in order for Lane Little to have time to throw to Isaiah Smith or for Bryce McBride to have room to run, Logan’s success will have to start on its offensive line.
“We’re very experienced on the offensive line,” said third-year head coach Billy Burke. “We have good size and good intelligence on the offensive line. If that holds true (as the season progresses), it will be a lot easier on everybody else. And we probably have three quality backups” to provide depth.
“We have an offensive line that can do pretty much whatever we ask them to do,” he continued. “If we need them to get down and dirty and get us a yard, I feel we can do that — and at the same time, I feel we can kick back and pass protect and do other things too.”
“This will be Zach Buckley’s second full year (and) Josh Rardain’s second full year,” Burke pointed out. “Brandon Skinner has come along — we expected him to be a good defensive lineman and he’s going to be contributor on the offensive line — Kory Henthorne has a year starting under his belt, and we know what kind of athlete he is. Eddie Lanning (6-4, 285, senior) is returning after having five games last year and he’s a big, strong kid.”
At least two sophomores — Chris Harper (6-1, 275) and Kamryn Carter (6-0, 275) — will look for some playing time on the O-line as well.
Assistant coach and offensive coordinator Brian Breining has those linemen to do the work for skill people such as Little, Smith and McBride.
“Coach Breining has become the offensive coordinator. We’re still doing a lot of the stuff we did a year ago, but we’ve added some of his flavor,” Burke revealed. “He’s very capable and has done a great job taking over the offensive play-calling duties.
“Our beauty is that we can be as balanced as we want to be,” he continued. “If we had to throw the ball every down, we have a quarterback who can do it, and we have a running back who can break 80 yards at any point and time. I don’t know if there’s a whole lot of things that we wouldn’t be capable of doing from an offensive standpoint depending upon what our game plan is.”
Without a doubt, Little (5-11, 185) is certainly a great place to start any game plan.
“The great thing about Lane, no matter what the dynamic of the offense, he’ll be able to execute it,” Burke praised. “Obviously Lane will be great in the running game and going play-action off that, but at the same time if we’re going to ask Lane to stand in the pocket and make the right read he’s perfectly capable of doing that.
“He’s got a nice arm to boot,” he added, “not to mention when he gets out in space he’s hard to get hold of. He’s able to do a lot of things as an athlete, even though that’s not necessarily a feature of our offense.”
Little will also play on defense, will do some kicking, and may even return kicks as well.
“He’s a super-competitor and has high expectations of himself,” Burke praised. “I think he’s got a little chip on his shoulder because he’s heard all those years to ‘protect him, get down, slide’ (because) he was unfortunate to hurt a shoulder two years ago and has had to live with everybody teasing him about protecting himself. Well, I think he can protect himself just fine.
“And they (the defense) gotta catch him first,” he added with a grin.
Sophomore Brady Walsh (6-0, 185) is Little’s QB backup.
“If Brady gets called to duty the dynamic of what we do will change a little bit,” Burke noted, “but what’s nice about our offensive system is that it’s prepared to accentuate the strengths of whoever is in the game. And we have the most important thing, which is the offensive line.”
They also have the multi-talented Smith (6-3, 186), the team’s second-leading receiver (37 receptions for 544 yards and seven touchdowns) a year ago. Like Little, Smith will also play defense, kick and return kicks. Heck, he and Little might even work in the concessions stand at halftime.
“If we pretended that Isaiah was our only possible receiver, we would be absolutely fine,” lauded Burke. “I think the young man is out of this world talent-wise. What he’s capable of us is off the charts.
“He’s really kind of like a one-in-a-coaching-lifetime kind of kid with natural ability,” he added. “He’s smart and a good competitor. We can do lots of different things with him.”
The Chiefs will need more than one receiver, however — they graduated Chance Cox, their top pass-catcher (41) from last year — and that’s where some of the underclassmen will figure in.
“Jenson Wallace (5-10, 150, junior) has come into his own and he’s a great compliment to Isaiah,” Burke noted. “You think back to the (San Francisco) 49ers when they had John Taylor and Jerry Rice. Jerry Rice was great and you could get him the ball no matter what, but at the same time don’t forget about John Taylor, either. So it’s nice having those two.”
Walsh and junior Riley Nelson (6-1, 165) are also in the WR mix.
“We’re trying to figure out who’s going to be that No. 3 guy to get into the rotation when we have to change our personnel a little bit,” Burke noted.
McBride (5-11, 185), a three-year letterman, looks to become just the sixth four-year letterman in Logan Chieftain football history. He had a terrific 2014 season going — a team-best 782 rushing yards on just 91 carries and 10 touchdowns — until week nine against Gallipolis, when he suffered an ACL injury that sidelined him from all athletics for the remainder of the school year.
A great-grandson of LHS football legend Bob McBride, Bryce is sound physically — he busted a 68-scoring run last Friday against Sheridan — but is still adjusting to being back out on the field.
“Bryce finally got his feet wet when it came to getting real contact again,” Burke said. “He was sick and didn’t run the ball at all against Bloom-Carroll (Logan’s first scrimmage), and it took him a little while to get going against Circleville when he finally began to realize he’s healthy and his knee is strong.
“If he’s going to get (another) knee injury he would get a knee injury whether he was coming off surgery or not,” added Burke, who should know: “I suffered the same thing. I had an ACL and I had to learn that if it’s going to go, it would have gone if it was healthy. He’s getting to that point now. To have something repaired like a knee, you’re not going to be released until it’s strong. The things you get nervous about are like a hamstring injury that continues to nag and reoccurs. It’s a confidence issue.”
McBride will also be a linebacker on defense but Burke hopes to spell him as often as possible, especially if “maybe his subs are simply because he went 80 yards (for a touchdown on offense) and he needs a break.”
Senior running back Corey Wilson (5-8, 150) is out with a shoulder injury and that eats into the team’s backfield depth.
“We’re losing some depth by not having Corey,” Burke said. “Jeremy Minor (5-11, 165, junior) is going to have to step it up as a guy who’s new (to LHS) this year. He doesn’t have a year under his belt of understanding some of the concepts of things that we do, but he has good natural ability. We have some guys who will have to step it up and reassure us that if their number is called they are prepared.”
Burke pointed out the Chiefs “really don’t have a prototypical tight end.”
Seniors Brendan Karns (6-0, 175), Domonic Micochero (6-0, 170) and Colton Stilwell (5-11, 220) are among those expected to play in that slot.
Micochero “is playing some tight end and what might be considered a fullback,” Burke pointed out, and “Stilwell is a fullback kind of guy but at the same time he has a lot of responsibilities a tight end might have. We have a lot of guys who are tough football players who can fill in and do what we ask them to do” at tight end.