What can we expect from the Thomson Bulldog football team in 2004? As a casual observer that has watched the two preseason scrimmages and talked occasionally with the coaches, I expect a short season.
I expect the season to be short not because I think the Bulldogs won't make the playoffs or because they'll be eliminated in the first round. I think the season will be short because the games will be short, and the state semi-finals will be Thanksgiving weekend. The season could be fantastic, but the squad could still not be practicing on Turkey Day. They'll have to be in the final four to do so.
The Thomson High games will be short because it will be to the advantage of the Bulldogs to keep them that way. Unlike 2002, or even last year, the team is not equipped to run track meets, throw bombs and win games 42-14. I just don't see the overall team speed on this edition of the Bulldogs that we've enjoyed watching the last few years.
This year's team will be as strong and physical as usual which will be very advantageous in Class AAA. I don't see a team in the region that can line up and match the Bulldogs strength-wise. The weight program under Coach Welsh is not just a hobby for the players; it is life. Without the blazing speed of recent teams, this will pay dividends more so than ever.
I see the Bulldogs being an offensive unit that lines up in the Wing-T, shoe-to-shoe, and saying, "Here we come, stop us if you can." That type of ground-oriented, smash-mouth attack will keep the game clock moving and the defense off the field. It will also get the fans home in plenty of time to see the late news.
The Dogs' long plays will come about through the deception of the Wing-T and because opposing defenses will crowd the line unmercifully. When a back breaks through a jammed pack line of scrimmage with the safeties playing at a depth of six yards, look out! Even without blistering speed the chance for a homerun will be good.
Defensively the Bulldogs will be as sound and well prepared as ever but would prefer a little more experience in the front seven. The scrimmages have shown me a defense that tackles well and gets to the ball as best it can. I won't use the word "swarm" because I just think the overall defense will not be quite as quick. The secondary has decent speed and experience to help prevent big plays. Their clock-eating counterparts on offense will definitely be their best friends.
I also have a hunch that we may see this defense give up an occasional long play on a sweep or pass, but if it is not a touchdown it won't automatically lead to one. A short field for this defense to cover may actually be an advantage. The problem with this is that it ends up leaving the offense in poor field position.
The big mystery is the kicking game. It looks like a major league try-out among several young guys for the kicking and punting jobs. Don't forget about the value of dependable long snappers. It will be vital for the Bulldogs to execute their coverages and returns to near perfection.
This team is not fragile with absolutely no margin for error but neither will it be a juggernaut. I see a workmanlike team that a rash of turnovers and penalties will be tough to overcome. The opener last year against Hart Co. was lost solely because of a handful of five-yard penalties at the most inopportune times. A returning starter at quarterback is always a big plus. Injuries have already occurred to the squad and they may have already reached the breaking point just on lost practice time alone.
Looking at the schedule, the Bulldogs will be physically superior to everyone with only Elbert County, Washington-Wilkes and Burke County being close. If they avoid turnovers and the injury bug bites instead of feasts, they have a good chance of running the table. Being one of the largest schools in AAA instead of one of the smallest in AAAA will be nice, come playoff time.
There's always a lot of "ifs" to start a season, and this year the biggest one may be "if they had some speed." I'll stake my claim to the fastest thing at a THS game this year being the 48 minutes of playing time. Coach Welsh and his staff will plan it that way.