Tough spring brings improvement for West
Morristown West running back DeAndre Delaney takes a handoff from quarterback Aaron Jones during the Trojans’ final spring scrimmage against Knox West Friday afternoon.
After a 4-6 season last year and missing the playoffs for the first time since 1997, the Morristown West football program entered a teaching phase this spring to bring a large group of younger players up to speed on how to play at the varsity level.
With scrimmages against defending Class 3A state champion Alcoa and Class 5A runner-up Knoxville West, Trojans coach Lamar Brown said his guys completed their two weeks of work as a better football team.
“We had a really good two weeks of spring practice,” Brown said. “We had a lot of young kids that got a lot of work in, and they got better every day. We played a lot of guys that are freshmen with our starters because of having a couple guys out with other sports or some injuries. Overall it was a great spring. We didn’t have anybody go down with a major injury, and we found out a lot about our team.”
In order to slow the teaching process down while installing a brand new system on offense with Brown taking over as offensive coordinator in place of the departed Erik Hutchins, the head coach said it was important to put players in only one position this spring even if they will play both sides of the ball this fall.
“We didn’t play anybody both ways during the spring,” Brown said. “We only had those guys going on one side of the ball or the other, not both.”
“We found out a lot about our young guys. A lot of what we are doing with them in the spring is technique. With all the young guys, they are doing a lot more thinking and that causes them to lose a little bit in physicality. But as they grow and it becomes instinct to them, they will become more physical.”
The scrimmages against two powerhouse teams also helped show the areas of concern the coaching staff will address this summer and in the fall.
“We had two great scrimmages, and playing against teams like Alcoa and Knox West will help exploit your weaknesses,” Brown said. “We will get better off the tape from those scrimmages.”
Brown added he was especially proud of the freshmen that were thrown into the starting lineup due to a few injuries and having some starters out while playing other sports during the spring.
“I’m really proud of this team and the strides we have made this spring, especially with those young guys,” Brown said. “The freshman class moved in, and there were five or six of them thrown in there against Alcoa and then against Knox West and they fought.
“Elijah Brown played every snap with the starters at outside linebacker. Hezekiyah Rudolph is a physical player, and he got a lot of reps at safety. Thad Simerly was another one and Shane Knight, and they had a lot of reps on the defensive line with the starters.”
Four freshmen saw significant time in the offensive backfield as well, playing alongside starting quarterback Aaron Jones and tailback DeAndre Delaney.
“On offense, we have Mason Earls and Daymion Blevins getting a lot of first-team reps,” Brown said. “Jacob Metler and Trae Cameron were in there a lot too, and Cameron took every first-team snap at fullback against Knox West. Those guys are really growing up.”
Brown said the offense was looking for explosive plays, and they got several in their two scrimmages. Delaney and Blevins both rushed for more than 100 yards against Alcoa, and Jordan Artime had a 70-yard TD run against Knox West’s first-team unit.
“If you can have explosive plays against Alcoa and Knox West, then you can have them against just about anybody,” Brown said. “That’s what we want to get to. We want explosive plays, especially when you have DeAndre back there at tailback.
“We have to get a lot better in the passing game, especially in pass protection. We spent a lot of time this spring getting in the base run game, but we will work on everything over the summer and get better.”
Both Jones and Earls had a good spring under center, as this was the first time since 2009 where a starting QB from the previous season participated in spring drills.
“We have two quarterbacks that we feel will be really good,” Brown said. “I’m proud of Aaron and Mason. We have thrown a lot at them this spring, and they have picked it up. It’s been frustrating at times for them, but we will slow it down for them this summer and teach them little things that we didn’t get to this spring.”
In addition to the departure of Hutchins, Brown brought Pete Epps up from the freshman staff to work with the varsity team. Despite the changes, the team adapted and worked well with the shuffled staff.
“This team has adapted to everything,” Brown said. “We have had a little staff turnover, but it’s been no big deal for the team. Pete Epps has moved up to varsity, and he is a guy these kids can look up to and relate to. Barron Chandler is calling the defense now also, and he did a great job this spring.”
As for the biggest area needing work heading into the summer, Brown said the passing game on both sides must improve for them to be successful.
“The biggest thing we have to improve on is the passing game on both sides,” Brown said. “We will get back to our workouts and take the time to teach and get our team better in the passing game on offense and defense. We have some skill guys that will probably play both ways for us this fall. Once we teach them both sides of the ball that will give us a lot of depth.”
-By Matt Daniels, Tribune Sports Editor