Jacksonville Daily Progress
Football coaches are always curious to see how their younger players will react when given their first real dose of varsity football.
Friday night, under the lights, at the Tomato Bowl the Jacksonville Fightin' Indian football team wrapped up spring practice with a Blue (defensive unit) vs. White (offensive unit) inter-squad scrimmage.
The teams went at it in two 12-minute controlled periods, and after a short break, squared off in a pair of 10-minute “live” quarters.
Perhaps, the best news of the evening was the play of several incoming-sophomores who will be leaned on heavy in the upcoming season.
With exactly 40-percent of the 83 young men that were on the scrimmage roster being incoming sophomores, their giving a strong account probably answered a few prayers sent up by the Tribe coaching staff.
“The defense started out slow and that put us in a bind,” Jacksonville head coach, Chris Taber, said. “But then we had a couple of the cross over (two-way) guys like Da Da Thacker and Jadarius Blake that helped us to get rolling on offense when we moved them over.
“After that, especially during the two live quarters, the younger kids stepped up and kept things going.”
The defensive unit had several different ways to score, including tackles for loss, holding the offense to three-and-out, fumble recoveries, quarterback sacks, interceptions, etc.
The score was knotted at 53 at the end of the two controlled periods.
The Indian offense moved in front 62-58 at the 7:50 mark of the opening segment of live action when Jacksonville quarterback Carter McCown connected with Ezell Woods on a 70-yard catch-and-run touchdown play, that came immediately after the Tribe offensive coordinator Jamie Palmer had called a time out.
On the next offensive series, the Tribe defense rose to the challenge when Micah Edwards picked off Indian back-up quarterback Cameron High.
The first live segment ended when Vadall Johnson powered in from nine yards out that put the white team up, 68-63.
Incoming-sophomore running backs Johnson and Da Da Brown sparkled like a newly minted coin Friday.
Johnson's touchdown was set up by a 45-yard run up-the-gut by Braylon Parish, who also had a good night.
McCown, who will be a senior in the fall, lofted his second touchdown of the night with 8:41 to go in the game when he found Curtis Landon at the goal line on an out route.
“We moved Curtis Landon from tackle to fullback and it looks like it is going to pay off,” Taber said.
Landon did a fine job of reeling the pass in while double covered.
The scoring play covered 10 yards and extended the offensive unit's lead to 75-63.
Johnson tacked on another rushing touchdown covering 39 yards as he zig-zagged across the field finding several open holes to run through.
“Vadall Johnson is a freshman now, just 15-years-old, but he is a spark plug and he runs with a passion,” Taber said.”When he got to those holes he was determined not to be tackled and he was a pleasant surprise for us (Friday).”
The touchdown put the offense up 86-63 with just over five minutes left in the game.
High came back to redeem himself when he dialed up Thacker, running a skinny post route, from about 25 yards out for six points.
During the controlled portion of the dress rehearsal Brown showed his stuff when he picked up positive yardage on three-consecutive carries and proved to be very difficult to bring down.
That march ended with a touchdown, when Brown steamrolled his way into the north end zone,late in the opening period.
“It was exciting to come out in my first real varsity action and do so well,” Brown said. “With the blocks that I was getting from my lineman...they made it easy to do.”
Other offensive highlights from the controlled portion included a 70-yard touchdown strike from McCown to Thacker, a 12-yard scoring toss (McCown to Keyshawn Anderson) and a 19-yard touchdown scamper by Johnson.
“Carter was Carter out there (Friday) night,” Taber said. “We've got accustomed to him doing what he does (throwing touchdown passes).”
Some of the defensive highlights included a Thacker interception, a couple of Peyton Wagoner and Demontre Ragsdale tackles for loss, a bone-crunching quarterback sack from Zandrick Morrow and a fumble recovery by Emmit Eckler.
All-in-all Taber seemed to be fairly content following the scrimmage.
“We are still very young, but we saw a lot of kids do a lot of good things out there, Taber said. “For instance, I thought our offensive line played the best they have all spring. They were making holes for the backs to go through and giving the quarterbacks plenty of time to throw the ball.”
Taber also seemed relieved by the play of the Jacksonville receivers.
“Coming into the spring our reviving corp was one of our biggest question and we've had three or four kids step up and play solid there for us. Some of those sophomores and juniors, guys like Tre Lollar and Ezell Woods made some big plays (Friday) for us.”
As for the biggest question mark going into fall camp in August, Taber had this to say.
“The one thing that we have not solidified is our safeties,” he said. “(Demontre) Ragsdale has done a good job, but it is a question beyond that.
“We were playing without two of our safeties, who were hurt, tonight and I think that that hurt our defense.”
The Tribe want take the field again until Aug. 22 when they make the short trip to Bullard to scrimmage the Panthers. Start time to be announced for that game.
A week later Jacksonville is slated to open the 2014 campaign at home by entertaining Pine Tree's Pirates at 7:30 p.m.