Tuesday, August 10, 2010

SPORTS>>Running back not a worry for Devils

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville’s second week of August practice has exceeded new coach Rick Russell’s expectations.

But Russell said there is still plenty of work to be done with the start of the season now less than three weeks away. The Devils have one full scrimmage under their belts, with plenty more to go in the coming week.

“It’s been better than I expected,” Russell said. “That heat, we had to be cautious with them and give them frequent breaks, but the effort, the intensity and concentration has been real good. I thought we had a real successful first week.”

The Red Devils have managed the heat well, with the exception of some scary moments for Fletcher Berkley, who had a couple of heat-related spells but has been treated and made a full recovery.

“It’s been a toll on everyone — it’s been a toll on me, it’s tough,” Russell said. “Yesterday until about 11, it was all go. And then it just seemed like it hit us all in the top of the head.”

In a new wrinkle, the Red Devils have two female players on the roster. Juniors Sarah Moncrief, a lineman, and Taylor Ruple, a kicker, have been practicing with the team since the first of August.

Moncrief, an advanced-placement student and transfer from North Pulaski, has been trying out for spots on the offensive and defensive line. Russell recruited Ruple, a standout on the Lady Red Devils’ soccer team, to try out for junior-varsity kicking duties this season.

“We heard she could kick, and we talked to her,” Russell said. “If they want to play, we’re going to take every precaution to get them out there. And the guys have really helped the situation.

“There were some concerns early with how the logistics of it would work — dress facilities and all this stuff, but we worked all that out, and everything’s going good.”

Russell said the defense has installed about 60 to 70 percent of its formations and plays. There are still a lot of vacant spots, which Russell said would be filled once everyone is evaluated and put at the most suitable spot.

“We’ve got a pretty good idea,” Russell said. “We’ve only had one major scrimmage. We’re getting a picture on defense of where the guys are fitting. Right now, we’ve got a strong safety that might be better at free safety, or an inside linebacker that might be a better outside linebacker, or vice-versa.

“That’s what we’re really trying to put the pieces together right now, putting them in the right positions based on their athletic ability.”

One position that appears set is running back. With proven seniors Antwon Mosby and John Johnson returning, as well as some talented underclassmen, the ground attack appears to be in good shape as the Red Devils transition from the Spread to a run-oriented offense.

“The offensive backfield, right now, is kind of by committee,” Russell said. “That’s a good thing to have, but it’s hard for coaches to figure out what player fits in which group.”