By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Cullman High was back in class Monday morning and back on the football field later that night, holding a lengthy intrasquad scrimmage under the lights to see how the latest bunch of Bearcats stack up as the 2013 season quickly approaches.
Coach Mark Britton said he set aside 45 plays for the first-string offense and defense, 35 for the No. 2s and then 25-35 for the entire squad to hone in on anything and everything special teams. In all, the Black and Gold were on the field for about 2.5 hours, long enough to put the program’s strenuous offseason workouts to the test.
“We had no cramps, we didn’t have anybody miss any plays because of conditioning, but then again, I thought some of our flags and mistakes were due to poor conditioning as far as reaching and grabbing,” Britton said. “That comes from taking shortcuts when you’re tired. It’s tough to get them in game shape where you’d like for Game 1. It’s kind of a progression to about games 2 or 3.”
The competitive setting was not just beneficial for Cullman, but also for the nearly 35 officials who rotated in and out of the action. The veterans in stripes were able to coach up their lesser-experienced counterparts, while newer players were given the opportunity to interact with officials for the first time, something Britton said he asks his wide receivers to do as they take their places on or off the line of scrimmage.
“In our spread, you’ve got four guys out there, so alignment is vital,” the coach said. “We’re just trying to get them used to everything like that.”
As far as gameplay was concerned, Britton said he walked away feeling “defense is definitely ahead of our offense right now.” Seasoned defensive ends Alex Martin and Justin Patterson “raised some cain to our passing game,” as did linebacker Joseph Gable, who continued an impressive fall with a pick-six that was returned about 50-55 yards.
With the Bearcats’ opener versus Walker practically a week away, Britton’s biggest concern lies in the team’s timing through the air. The coach said there were multiple instances where routes were cut short, balls were tipped and deliveries came a little bit later than he would’ve liked to see.
“You just have a small window of opportunity to throw through,” Britton said. “That’s what we’re working on timing-wise, which I’m sure everybody in the state is not at game speed.”
Britton’s assessment of the run game was “fair.” He didn’t think “the offensive line was sold they had a great day,” but still felt the new tailback tandem of Garrett Crider and Will Crenshaw made the most of their carries when given room to work with.
“It was pretty ragged at times, but then there were times of explosive plays that we’re excited about,” Britton said. “We just need to move more towards those nice, crisp execution-type plays.”
Despite wrapping up around 8:30 or 9 p.m. Monday night, many players were right back in the fieldhouse by 6 a.m. on Tuesday to break down film from the scrimmage. Britton held Wednesday’s practice in shells “to get our legs back under us” and scheduled another scrimmage — albeit much smaller than the first — for today after school.
“These scrimmages, even though they’re against each other, I think they’re very beneficial for us,” the coach said. “It’s helped us in the past. You’re just able to make a lot of progress when you watch yourself make mistakes.”
Walker, Cullman’s Week 1 opponent, is set to take on Benjanmin Russell Saturday as part of the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s eighth annual Champions Challenge. The game ultimately won’t count toward either team’s record, but it will allow the Vikings to work out some of “those first-game jitters and first-game mistakes,” a luxury Britton and the Bearcats won’t be awarded.
“I think it’s going to help them,” said Britton, who would tie coaching icon Oliver Woodard’s all-time wins mark with a victory against Walker. “Most people say you have your biggest improvements between games 1 and 2, just because you get to go against someone other than a teammate. We’re going to be in for a challenge no doubt. Our guys are going to have to be good.”
While the Black and Gold stay in-house for their preseason matchups, the rest of Cullman County will warm up with jamborees.
On Thursday night, Good Hope will head across town to West Point, and Cold Springs will travel to Meek. Friday’s schedule is even fuller, with Arab at Fairview; J.B. Pennington at Vinemont; Lynn at Addison; Hanceville/Brookwood at Corner; and Holly Pond at West End. All games will start at 7 p.m.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.