De Queen spring football drills have ended giving the Leopard coaching staff an idea of what to expect when pre-season practice begins in earnest.
“It went pretty well. We just wanted to cover the basics. We got the base defense and offense in and worked a little bit of spread as well,” head coach Stephen Sloan explained.
“We are going to remain an I-based offense, but we’ll run some double wing and spread. We may look into some bunch sets as well.”
Daily attendance for workouts averaged about 50. “So much is going on in the spring. We could have 55-60 in fall camp,” Sloan said.
The Leopard staff came to this spring’s practices with a different approach. “Our goal is to keep guys playing only one way,” Sloan said. “This will cut their snaps in half, and they should be better in the fourth quarter.” The hard part is deciding who plays on which side of the ball.
“Our lack of speed could be a huge problem,” Sloan said. “On the other hand, there is lot of experience coming back.” Eight players on offense and six on defense accumulated significant playing time last fall.
“There’s no replacing experience,” the coach said. “When you lack experience, the game is faster. When you have experience it slows down. When it slows down, you can do things a lot better.”
The most experience is in the offensive line with four players returning: Chase Cowley, Aaron Figueroa, Alejandro Camarillo and Oscar Hernandez.
“We have a lot of guys rotating at the other spot,” Sloan said. “Tight end is where we’ve got to have someone step up.”
Julio Alvarez, whose previous playing time has been at tackle -- mostly on defense -- has shown surprising potential at tight end. Sloan said that Alvarez, who is mobile for a player of his size, has “very good hands, but he may need to play defense. We’ll see where he fits best.”
There is little experience at the receiver positions where Tanner Bruce, Ryan Vance and Logan Williamson worked in the spring. “We’re trying to get better at receiver,” said the coach. “We may move Marquez to receiver some times.”
Marquez Ester is back at tailback. Demontra Grant, Xavier Hernandez and Jesus Commacho also got reps at the position.
Kade Martin played fullback for the senior high last year. Jesus Marrufo was the junior high fullback, but both could be needed on defense.
Javier Hernandez and Dalton Saxour, an offensive lineman last season, practiced at the fullback spot. “Our fullbacks are like guards,” Sloan pointed out. “They must block. They open holes mostly.”
Last year’s quarterback, Isaiah Williamson, is not healthy at the moment.
Sophomore Dylan Williamson, no relation, took just about every snap during spring drills.
“He is very raw. He needs reps and game experience, but he improved every day,” Sloan said. “He’s got a pretty good arm. He has improved his strength in the weight room. Now he has to get his foot work down.”
Sophomores Luke Rogers and Inari Lorenzo had some good moments in spring drills and could help at some point in the season. “It’s a big order for a sophomore to play against seniors who are two years older,” Sloan noted.
With the summer break at hand, the coach is upbeat. “We’re probably a little bit ahead of where we were last year,” he said. “There were some sparks out there. The enthusiasm level was pretty high. I hope it carries over through summer and into fall.”
June could be an indicator of the enthusiasm with only voluntary weight lifting scheduled. “June is an open month. There is so much going on -- vacations, church camps and other things. We will start team activities on July 15,” the coach said.
The coaches will be busy all summer. “I want to repaint the field house,” Sloan noted. “Of course we need to get the field ready. Considering all the rain, the field is not too bad. The bermuda is growing pretty well. We need to get the weeds out and get some dead spots ready.”
De Queen defensive co-ordinator Richard Bell said little new ground was covered in the spring work.
“It’s mainly refreshing memory and teaching ninth graders what we do,” he said. “I am pleased with the recall and how quickly the young players picked it up.”
The Leopard defense has more available positions than the offense. “We need one or two linebackers, two safeties, and we lost our two best defensive ends,” Bell note. “I saw potential to fill the end spots. There was a good showing from freshmen at linebacker.”
It is hard to say who was the leader at the close of spring drills at several positions. “Right now I want to keep it competition oriented. Things could change week to week,” Bell said.
“I was very pleased with how the kids responded to practice. We have so many multi sport athletes, everybody is a little tired by this time. They still came out to get better.”
He does not plan on major revisions to the defense the Leopards used last season. “There will be some small changes due to guys we have,” he said. “Some years you may be confident about blitzing linebackers. Some years you may be confident about stunting linemen.”
He is confident that the Leopards will have one of their biggest defensive fronts in awhile. “We average about 250 in the line,” he noted.
The weight room will be open, but lifting will be voluntary through June.
“We want them to be kids and enjoy the summer. We told them we’d work around their schedules in June,” the strength coach said.
He stressed, however, the Leopards should not take the month off. “In the off-season weight program some of them improved their maximum by 50 percent. Every single person went up on their max.”
With spring drills completed, Bell wants one thought to remain in the front of the Leopards’ minds. “Don’t lose what you’ve gained. If you have an hour, come lift.”