Let it rip

Area teams may really put it up in ’09

No pads; no running plays to worry about; no linemen.

The East Tennessee 7-on-7 Perimeter Practice Day at Maryville College on Saturday was a good way for quarterbacks, running backs and receivers at Alcoa, Heritage and Maryville to work on their timing with the start of fall practice nearing.

A similar camp at McMinn County earlier this week served the same purpose for William Blount’s Governors.

It’s best not to make too much of the results, though.

“We did some good things with the ball,” Maryville coach George Quarles said. “Sometimes, we weren’t even close.”

Fall practice starts on Monday. Alcoa will enter the season seeking an unprecedented sixth consecutive state championship. Maryville isn’t just going to go away because a state record 74-game winning streak came to end last fall. Heritage and William Blount are both welcoming new coaches with fresh ideas fans of both schools sure to like.

There are many questions to be answered at each school before the Maryville Orthopaedic Clinic Jamboree Aug. 14 at Maryville’s Shields Stadium, not the least of which being who will take the snaps at quarterback?

The Rebels, whose five-year long win streak was snapped, 10-7, by Hillsboro in last season’s Class 4A state championship game, return the county’s most accomplished passer in returning starter Philip Juhlin. The Rebel leader got off some ripping throws at the perimeter practice day.

Whether it’s the deep ball or something with some real sauce on it, Juhlin can make all throws. His numbers last season - 89-of-144 for 1,286 yards and six touchdowns - attest to his readiness to lead a Rebel resurgence.

“He’s definitely ahead of the others,” Quarles said, “and the other ones need to catch up.”

Quarles went with a two-quarterback system a year ago, and, should 2009 necessitate, that option could again become available. Sophomore Patton Robinette, a tall, rangy thrower with a super big arm, is coming on fast. Tentative on a few of his early throws Saturday, Robinette - who scored above 30 on the ACT as an eighth-grader! - delivered some out-route tosses later in the day that are as big-time as it gets.

A third option is fellow sophomore Will Roberts. Like Juhlin, Roberts has exceptional open-field speed and athleticism. Roberts’ older sister, Bailie, signed a Division I basketball scholarship with Southeast Missouri State following her senior year at Maryville this spring.

The question, whether it’s Juhlin, Robinette or Roberts, is who’s going to make the catches?

The top three receivers from a year ago, including top playmaker Chris Jordan (Air Force Academy), are gone. Senior Kody Harris and juniors Desmond Horne and Stian Romberg look to be the frontrunners to replace them.

“It’s going to be a little bit different when the running game is in there,” Quarles said. “Hopefully, our whole offense will make our passing game better.”

The situation is a bit reversed at Alcoa. The Tornadoes have the area’s most prized recruit in senior tight end Tyler Robinson. The 2008 Mr. Football already has scholarship offers from Kentucky and Virginia Tech. There are a bevy of deep flyers on the outside to keep the opposition honest.

The question confronting Alcoa coach Gary Rankin is will it be senior Ryan Stoutt or junior Austin Tallant getting the ball to Robinson and the others?

Stoutt, a transfer from Florida during the spring, is tall, savvy, and he can sling it. Tallant can match Stoutt throw for throw in terms of arm strength and is faster afoot. Either would be an excellent replacement for the departed Chase James.

Rankin said Saturday he’s in no hurry to come to a decision.

“It looks like we’re going to be a two-quarterback team,” he said.

The Mountaineers could prove this season’s biggest surprise. In first-year coach Brint Russell, Heritage has a new skipper who’s brought with him the spread offense. It takes a quarterback who can really put something on it for the offense to click, and, in junior Tyler Hartley, Russell believes he’s found him.

“He’s going to play some quarterback for us,” said a pleased and smiling Russell after watching Hartley’s performance on Saturday.

Hartley got pretty much all the reps under center. Like the receivers who’ll run under his passes, though, he’s largely an unknown, but he can get it there in a hurry. The Mountaineers haven’t had a quarterback who can throw like he can in many, many seasons.

William Blount’s Governors, under the direction of first-year coach David Gregory, may depend less on the passing game than their Tornado, Rebel and Mountaineer counterparts. Gregory has installed a version of the veer, option offense as his primary means of moving the ball, but that doesn’t mean the Governors aren’t going to put it up some.

“I can’t say we’ll be under center more than we’ll be in the gun,” Gregory said.

Junior Zach Witt has the foot speed, strong arm and toughness required to direct such an attack. Senior Josh Burton is another option.

Regardless of who gets the start at quarterback, the Governors have some serious speed at the other skill positions as a compliment. Backs Robbie Irwin, Zach Thomason and Caleb Latham are true burners.

“I feel comfortable with our skill players,” Gregory said. “We’ve got some guys that can go get the football. We’ve just got to get them the ball in space. We’ll throw to the backs as much as we do the receivers.”

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