Friday, May 21, 2010

SPORTS>>Falcons flock to practice

Leader sportswriter

Improved numbers were one of the highlights of North Pulaski’s two weeks of spring football practice.

The Falcons had 45-55 players out daily for spring drills. Coach Rick Russell, entering his second season, said much of the time was spent on one-on-one training, along with plenty of scrimmages.

There are currently 72 on the tentative fall roster.

The successful spring sessions were not without hitches, however, as a number of players missed certain days because of work commitments and spring school activities. The first week only included three workouts because of the athletic banquet and prom.

“Spring’s kind of crazy,” Russell said. “We have kids that have jobs; kids that have choir concerts. You have to send in a two-week window for spring ball.

“It’s one of those things where we did it about two months ago, and it ended up on a week when we had our athletic banquet and prom.”

Russell credited the smooth transition into spring from a solid offseason and said many returning players benefited from the structure and consistency of daily workouts.

“There are some of them that we know can play — we’ll see if they can improve,” Russell said. “There’s some that we think can play — we want to see if they can be a player for us next year. If they develop and progress to the point where we think they can play on Friday night.

“Then, we have others who are new to the program.”

Russell plans on the Falcons having a very similar look to last year’s team, with a few minor changes. Returning junior quarterback Shyheim Barron will take more snaps from the shotgun as opposed to his normal spot under center last season, and the defense will have a different look up front.

North Pulaski will be switching from its odd-man front to an adjustable 4-2 or 4-4 defense. The Falcons were lacking in linemen last year, but have picked up bodies in the form of underclassmen and newcomers.

“The main thing is, the kids have been excited about it,” Russell said. “It can be more of a chore than fun for the coaches sometimes. But for the kids, they’re excited every day to get out there.”

A talented corps of offensive skill players, led by Barron, will return. Barron poses a dual threat as a scrambling quarterback who also understands the passing game.

“Shyheim is doing a good job,” Russell said. “He’s been a good leader for us. He started at quarterback for us last year, so he’s more verbal than he was last year. That’s the immediate plus.”

Barron is focusing on mechanics and footwork in the spring and has strengthened his throwing arm. Russell believes that participating in a 7-on-7 league in Cabot on Wednesdays this summer will also help Barron.

With the unknowns of being a first-year coach out of the way, and with some members of the coaching staff settling into new roles, Russell believes many of the first-year bugs have been removed.

“I know going into that dressing room is a lot more comfortable for everybody,” Russell said. “The getting-to-know-each-other process has already taken place. We’ve made some adjustments with our coaches in some different assignments for next year.

“It does take a period of time. This is kind of like my second season here in the spring. Hopefully, the fall will feel like the third season. Our goal next year is to make the playoffs, and I think we have a good shot at it.”