With less than a month until the start of the 2018 regular season, area high school football teams have begun to ratchet up the intensity with the official start of pre-season practice right around the corner.
One way teams do this is with 7-on-7 passing sessions, games and tournaments, which have seen an enormous boom in the past decade. State, regional and even national tournaments bring in some of the top programs to test themselves against other.
Quarterbacks and skill position players (running back and receivers) face off with linebackers and defensive backs in multiple series of passing plays. There is no tackling involved and no pass blocking.
Some schools face off without any clocks or scores being kept, while some tournaments include points for touchdowns, extra points, interceptions and defensive stops.
Teams in Catoosa and Walker Counties have been at it nearly the entire month of July, putting in the time and sweat equity to try and improve.
“We’re just trying to get better, cognitively, see some different looks and trying to learn some football,” explained Heritage head coach E.K. Slaughter during a break in the action of a recent session between his Generals and the visiting Chattanooga Central Purple Pounders. “We’re also trying to establish the depth chart because we’ve got a lot of new guys that are working their way in.”
Heritage also hosted three more Chattanooga-area schools, Brainerd, Boyd-Buchanan and Bradley Central, in a four-way 7-on-7 session two days later.
The Generals are coming off a nine-win season that saw them host a state playoff game for the first time in school history. However, they are also facing heavy graduation losses, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“We’ve got a new quarterback that’s going to be a sophomore, so we’re trying to get his education going,” Slaughter said. “We’re trying to see who can make different plays in the secondary and at receiver and just trying to figure out who our guys are and get a head start on pads practice.
Slaughter said some of the new guys are beginning to make some inroads.
“We’ve had a lot of guys that have really fit in well and have stepped up nicely,” he added. “I’m excited about them. We had a camp at Pickens and we got to see some stuff, physically, but you still don’t really know until you get to that first scrimmage and we get some pads on. But we’ve seen some good things.”
New Ridgeland head coach Cortney Braswell was anxious to see his team in its first 7-on-7 of the summer against visiting Marion County (Tenn.) on July 12. The Panthers also hosted Ringgold and a few other Chattanooga-area teams in a session a few days later.
“It’s really our first one, so we really just want to see us right now,” Braswell said before the session with the Warriors. “We want to see some systematic improvement in some of the things we haven’t been doing well in our individual practices against ourselves.
“We’ve made a lot of strides and done some good things, but when another team shows up, you can sometimes forget the fundamentals. Hopefully, we’ll see some things that we didn’t do very well during our 11-on-11’s and see our guys really go out and try to compete.”
Even for a program coming off back-to-back Region 6-AAAA titles, Braswell said the most important things were competition and doing things the right way.
“We’ve got some young guys and it’s a different speed for some of them than what they are used to seeing, but so far, they have met the challenge.
“Right now, we’re lacking in the execution of things, particularly when we get tired. We need to see how we do when we start to get fatigued. We had a couple of 11-on-11’s yesterday and we’re a little worn (out), so it’s important for us to see if we can do things the right way.”
This past week, LFO joined Chattooga for a three-way workout at LaFayette and Warriors’ boss Bo Campbell said 7-on-7’s were a great way to work on things, especially since it was a live ball situation.
“This is a good opportunity for our offense to work on times in the games when we’re going to have to pass the ball, get first downs and move the ball down the field,” he explained. “Defensively, it’s a chance for our guys to work on secondary coverages and breaking on the ball. There are some definite advantages to having 7-on-7’s when teams are running (plays) the way they would run them in the game.”
LFO is coming off a 5-5 campaign, their best season since 2012, but are also dealing with their own heavy graduation losses and finding a new quarterback is one of the team’s top priorities.
“Right now we are kind of working in a couple of different quarterbacks and still trying to see who is going to take that job,” Campbell added. “At the same time we think we have a couple of guys that can do the job.”
Meanwhile, new Rambler head coach Paul Ellis is still in the process of getting acclimated to his new team and vice versa.
“We haven’t gotten to do many 7-on-7’s so far this summer because of me getting here late,” said the former Fort Payne (Ala.) head coach. “That’s not anyone’s fault, it just is what it is. Originally, it was just supposed to be us and Chattooga today, but we were able to get LFO to come down, which was good because it gave us more of a variety with different offenses and different defenses.”
LaFayette is also breaking in a new quarterback and has some new faces at the skill positions.
“I was pleased overall,” Ellis continued. “We had some busts, but that’s to be understood since it was our first (7-on-7) of the summer and I think these other (teams) have had several. I’m not making an excuse for us. I thought LFO and Chattooga both played fantastic, but I thought we had some really good plays at times.
“We just have to get to where the kids will trust us (as coaches) and trust what we’re doing and what we’re telling them. When we do that, if we do that, we’ll have a chance to be successful because there’s some talent out here.”