In the record breaking 2016 season that took the Indians to the quarterfinals, which easily could have been the semifinals, there weren’t many opportunities for back-up play. On a positive note, when a backup did get the opportunity to start, he set the season’s single-game rushing mark with 276 yards. Tyler Griffin, unfortunately for the Indians, was also a senior and will now be playing ball on Saturdays. (Chattooga’s single game rushing record was set by Jimmy Lenderman, 305 yards against Trion in 1969)
The Indians lost 18 seniors, half of which went on to sign football scholarships.
When the Foster Twins walked off Buddy Windle Field, so did 90 percent of Chattooga’s 2016 offense. The Fosters’ hold the record as Chattooga’s top two All-Time leading scorers: Isaac #1, Isaiah #2, AND Isaiah stands alone as the Indians All-Time leading Rusher.
Replacing this much production is a daunting task. Replacing that much talent is simply impossible. And these daunting, impossible tasks now fall on the shoulders of new Offensive Coordinators, David Gann and Chris Hodges.
Faced with a stable of players with different skill sets, Gann and Hodges have implemented a new take on their former offensive scheme. While the bulk of the terminology and plays will remain the same, there are many adjustments to deal with the differences in personnel. The experience level alone is a drastic hurdle to overcome. Prior to last Friday’s scrimmage, nine of the 11 starters had never played their position on Friday nights. As the Indians took the field , the team didn’t have a single quarterback in the roster with significant Friday reps. The same thing is true for the tailback position. In the words of Axel Rose, it takes a little patience. Patience that’s not easily found around the Liar’s tables at Jim’s and Dirttown Deli.
Chattooga will likely still continue to run the ball and coaches indicate that the new offense will be balanced as much as possible. During the opening plays of last Friday’s scrimmage, the Indians lost three tailbacks with injuries. Getting the starters quality reps in two quarters of scrimmage play was a priority for the coaching staff and the injuries were a sizable setback. Head Coach Charles Hammon found a silver lining in the second half when freshman EJ Lackey stood out as a consistent and reliable runner who proved himself ready for Friday night action. While no team seeking a playoff run wants to rely on a true freshman at running back, the Indians are definitely in need of depth at every position.
Key objectives for the new look offense will be improved communication. Senior quarterback C.J. Martin has been a dependable soldier in the past and let his leg do all his talking. As the starting signal caller, Gann will need Martin to be more decisive and vocal in the huddle. Simple voice projection, volume and confidence will settle the team and slow down those precious 25 seconds on the play clock.
Moving the chains. While the Indians still possess playmakers, the focus will be productive first down plays, not getting behind the chains and converting third downs. Gann and Hodges will need consistent play from an offensive line anchored by All-Area behemoth, Dustin Pope. The line may be the best chance for Chattooga to establish long drives in 2017. With an average weight over 250 lbs, their is tremendous potential here if the front five can gel together in a cohesive unit and protect Martin in the pocket and open running lanes.
Pass protection will be the final key. With flashy receivers like junior Devin Price, sophomore Jamarious Mosteller and senior Cole Allen, Martin will have big targets who can catch the ball and pick up meaningful yards after the catch.
Chattooga is ready to shake off the hiccups of the opening scrimmage in the same manner as the 2016 team. Several players have rested some bruises and sprains and should be ready for kickoff in the season opener against Fort Payne.
While players are adjusting to new coordinators and a different system of play calling, David Gann has been operating this offense for over two decades. The learning curve on the field will be tempered by the poise and professionalism that Hammon has filled his sideline with. Seasoned generals on both sides of the ball should speed up the process and keep the players calm and focused.
Something that may prove more difficult for “Saturday morning quarterbacks” and win-hungry fans.