“I guess the best thing is in the past we felt like we had to give up 14 or fewer points — we’re still going to plan and scheme not to give up a lot — but the pressure to pitch five shutouts is not there any more,” said Easom, whose unit had one shutout last season and held three others teams to seven or fewer points. “We still can’t become complacent. We have to maintain our edge.”
That could spell trouble for Griffin’s opponents this upcoming season.
The Bears return seven starters — an eighth was lost to discipline problems — from last year’s 9-3 team which reached the second round of the state playoffs for a school-record fourth year in a row while increasing the school-record string of consecutive state playoff appearances to 11 seasons. The unit allowed 12.1 point per game against during the regular season while yielding 18 ppg through the regular season and playoffs combined.
Fans can catch their first glimpse of most of those starters in Thursday’s Griffin-N-Gold scrimmage 5 p.m., at the GHS practice fields. Most are expected to be in action. Several, however. have missed time because of injuries this spring.
Back to lead anchor the unit are rising senior Richard Wilder at safety and rising sophomore Malik Miller at rover linebacker.
“As far as Richard Wilder and Malik Miller it’s like we never stopped practicing,” said Easom. “Malik Miller is so much better right now than he was last year — that 12 games of experience really made a big difference. He has really made some big breaks on balls this spring. He really understands now. I rarely have to say anything to Malik, whereas last spring it was on every play, constant coaching.”
In all, Griffin is looking to replace three of four linebackers.
The Bears have been working rising sophomore Ryan Cochran, rising seniors Trey Mallett and Quintavious Jackson at will linebacker. Telly Sloan has worked at the mike linebacker spot, while Stephen Welch and John Pope have each seen time at sam linebacker. Mallett, who suffered a concussion on Monday and rested several days thereafter, could be back in time for the spring game.
While the team is looking for a corner opposite Quantico Dodson where Hunter Shoemate, “has been having a solid spring,” according to Easom, the line remains a source of comfort for the staff. Treyvon Sullivan, Ronquerris “Sapp” Davis, Johnathan Frost and Kenneth Ogbo all return. About the only bad thing that has happened has been an injury to Davis (knee) the first day of practice.
“We lost Sapp, probably the first or second play of inside drills, so that made me move some kids around and get some kids some looks at different sports,” said Easom, who was looking to develop depth along the offensive wall anyway.
One player who has risen to fill the void is Brandon Berry.
“Frost has had a good spring so far and Berry has also had a good spring,” said Easom.
Overall, Easom couldn’t be any more pleased.
“You can see the progress the kids have made from the first day of spring practice to where we are now,” he said. “We’ve gotten better.”
One of the things that has helped spur the growth has been Griffin’s highly touted offense.
Easom is the first to admit it, too.
“Our defense has kind of been forced to move forward more,” he said.”I don’t feel we’re going to see a spread team that’s going to put as much strain on the defense as ours does. We feel like if we can hold on to field position and hold on to the situation, we’ll be well prepared for anyone we see during the season.”
As for Thursday’s scrimmage, Easom is looking forward to it.
“We’re going to see how we can handle situations and how we can handle calls we make to try to match against anyone we’re going to play,” he said. “We’re going to see teams that have talented players, but we’re not going to see as many talented players — that as soon as somebody goes down or out another one can step right in a boom, take off again.”
He predicts the offense will have an edge, because it’s working off a script and hasn’t revealed tendencies yet.
“The thing about a scrimmage is — when you go into a game, you have tendencies by formation and tendencies by down and distance and hash (marks) and things like that — you really can’t game plan for a scrimmage,” he said. “You kind of do what you do and if you do anything extra you kind of hope you match the right call to put you in a good situation.”
Then again, at this early date, there’s no defense in the state that has seen Griffin’s offense as much as Easom’s.
8/17 |@ Newnan
8/31 |@ Dutchtown
9/7 |@ Northgate
9/14 |Jonesboro *
9/21 |@ Woodland
10/5 |@ Riverdale *
10/19 |North Clayton *
10/26 |@ Upson-Lee *
11/2 |@ Spalding *
11/9 |Region Playoff
* — Region 4-AAAA, Div. B