Friday, August 07, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Devils figuring out depth chart

Leader sports editor

Numbers haven’t been what was expected back when as many as 83 turned out for spring practice, but the Jacksonville football team has been able to establish some depth with the 50 to 55 players who have taken part in the first official week of preseason drills.

A key reason for that achievement is the 20 seniors who are leading the way for the Red Devils this season.

“We’ve got a big senior class so we hope to have a little more leadership on the field,” said Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham. “I think we’ve established a pretty good idea of our depth chart. We know pretty much who can help us and where they’re going to be most affective.”

Since teams are not allowed to practice in full pads until the sixth practice, coaches find other ways to determine who’s standing out and earning those starting spots.

“We’re looking at technique mostly,” Hickingbotham said. “We’re looking at the guys who are doing things right and we’re looking at who’s playing fast. If you’re not sure of what you’re doing, you’re going to hesitate and you’re not going to go full speed. And of course we’re looking at the ones who are giving effort and working hard every day.”

Hickingbotham, who is also the offensive coordinator, has his quarterbacks signaling plays from the sidelines during team drills. He has been impressed with both his senior and junior quarterbacks, Brandon Hickingbotham and Rowdy Weathers, and their understanding of the system.

“That’s something we’re going to try the first three games,” Hickingbotham said. “First and foremost just from a learning standpoint to help them understand what we’re doing. But we’re going to play both of those guys early. It’s a big plus to have to two guys that study and understand things the way they do.”

The bad news has been the inconsistency in participation. On Thursday, about 54 players were present with 47 dressed out. Friday morning’s practice was about the same in numbers, but not the same in personnel. Four projected starters were not at practice Friday morning.

“It’s a different 50 today, and that’s a little discouraging,” Hickingbotham said. “But I’m excited about the ones who are here every day giving it 100 percent.”

The lack of daily participation became an issue on the first day of preseason. The head Red Devil says there will be make-up work involved for any missed practice time, and thinks that will be the main reason numbers don’t climb much higher than they are now.

“We’re going to hold people accountable around here. About 50 is probably about where we’re going to wind up. We’ll see for sure when people start trickling in here and find out what it’s going to take to be held accountable.”