EDITOR'S NOTE: John Barnett reviewed the Bulldogs' offense in his column last week.
The Thomson High defensive coaching staff, led by coordinator Lee Hutto, spent this spring installing a new defensive scheme that is significantly different from what the Bulldogs have been running.
Also, the defense only returns three starters from last season, and only one of them will be playing the same position. Still, I was impressed by the effort put forth by the defense, and coach Hutto feels good about the first 11.
However, the coaches must develop some depth because some of these players will see action on the offensive side of the ball and will need to be rested at some point. Injuries to key personnel also are always cause for worry.
The defensive line will be anchored by seniors Garrison Kendrick, who played defensive end last year, and Jonathan Atkins, who played both tackle and tight end on offense. Atkins, at 6 feet 4 inches and 310 pounds, made things interesting this spring as several college scouts attended the scrimmages. He has multiple scholarship offers from SEC and ACC schools. He will be depended upon to clog up the middle and occupy two blockers.
Omar Lewis, primarily an inside linebacker last year, has been shifted to defensive end. Marquavious Jones, primarily a defensive end last year, will man one linebacker spot, and Cameron Garnett is expected to be the other.
Jones is an experienced player who has a knack for making big plays. Garnett missed the second scrimmage with a concussion, and his absence on May 14 was noticeable.
Jarquavious Heath and Jalen Tucker, also a wide receiver, worked at outside linebacker and improved as the spring drills progressed. Tucker's athleticism and aggressiveness will be a key to the success of this year's defense.
Ric Hill and Patrick Taylor are also expected to be key contributors on the defensive front.
Hutto cited the secondary as the strongest area of the defense. While strong safety Kentrell Reynolds is the only starter in the same position he played a year ago, he is a good one. He had an impressive interception return for a TD in the scrimmage and is a very physical player with good instincts.
The secondary received a huge boost when Billy Felts transferred back to Thomson High after starting on both sides of the ball at Westside last year. He is joined at cornerback by Trez McGahee and Torrie Battle.
William Bussey, primarily a fullback last year, made huge strides at free safety during the spring.
I feel good about how this defense will progress. They came into spring practice doing what all good defenses must do. They will hit; they pursue well to the ball; and they hustle. While the offense made a lot of big plays in the final spring scrimmage, the absence of Garnett at linebacker was huge.
Also, a lot of the big plays were made when defensive starters were moved to offense and second team defenders were in the game. No blitz packages had been installed, which was an advantage for the offense.
While the coaches on both sides of the ball told me they feel the team has a long way to go, they were all pleased with the effort that the players put forth and the progress they made in putting in new offensive and defensive systems. I hope you are looking forward to next season as much as I am. Go Dogs!
John Barnett has played, observed and coached Thomson athletics for 45 years. Contact him at B122792@comcast.net.