Wednesday, May 23, 2007

SPORTS>>More options for ’Rabbits

Leader sportswriter

It wasn’t a lack of talent that hampered the Lonoke Jackrabbits during the 2006 season, it was a lack of versatility.
A limited offense and unfamiliar coach resulted in a trying 3-7 record for the ‘Rabbits, but the ’07 version looks to be improved in both regards.

Many of last year’s skill players and all but one lineman returned to Abraham Field for spring practice beginning last week. Monday afternoon marked only the second day of pads for the squad, as they went through a variety of offensive sets.
Lonoke ran an almost exclusive spread attack last year, although a great deal of it was on the ground. Monday saw plenty of passing routes from the spread, but the Jackrabbits also spent a fair amount of time working out of the pro set with twin backs. Coach Jeff Jones says the pro-set formation is not completely new to the returning players, but will be used in more game situations during the coming season.

“We worked on that some last year,” Jones said. “We just didn’t use it like we needed to. We’re going to be able to do that this year; we’ll be more physical than we were last year. Last year, we were just to the point of putting it in place. This year, we’re trying to understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. That’s just the next extension we’re taking.”

The ‘Rabbits have grown not only in offensive options, but in field generals as well. Last year’s starting quarterback Alex Cash will return again for his senior year at QB, but this year, he won’t be alone. Juniors Rollins Elam and Clarence Harris both spent time under center during practice Monday.

“Alex is a versatile runner and passer,” Jones said. “Rollins Elam is a great pocket passer, and Clarence Harris, he was our flanker last year. We’re going to put him in there and let him run the ball and do some play-action passing as well. We’re trying to mix it up some and add a little variety to our offense. They’re going to get to play, but I guess it depends on how well they do in practice, how many reps they get in the game at that position.”

There were 41 players dressed out on Monday, with a number of players absent due to a summer league baseball game. Jones estimates the total at just under 50; the number he expected to participate.

Along with experience at the skill positions, a number of seasoned linemen return for the Jackrabbits as well. Keifer Vaughn, Brad Harvey and Joel Harris ??? all return to the Lonoke offensive interior this season. Harris was moved to tight end, but Vaughn and Harvey will remain inside for the ‘Rabbits.

In the backfield, Brandon Smith moves up from last year’s conference champion ninth grade team in 2007 at tailback, along with Tyler Crow, who saw playing time in the position late last year. All Conference standout Amir Fleming will once again take on fullback duties along with his linebacker position on defense.

Along with sharing quarterback duties, Clarence Harris will also return to receiving duties this season, along with Daniel Smith. Jones also says there are several potential receivers in the ninth-grade unit that will be moving up as well.
“We’ve got some guys we know we can count on,” Jones said. “And some young guys we feel good about. We’re just trying to teach them the techniques and why we’re doing certain things. We’re way ahead of the game from where we were at this time last year.”