Editor’s Note: With the end of spring football practice, focus turns to the fall, but how does first-year Crestview High School coach Tim Hatten assess his team?
Today, in the second of a two-part series, we will focus on Crestview’s defense.
Next week, Baker School coach Matt Brunson will break down the Gators.
CRESTVIEW — It might be fair to say the Crestview High School football team's defense is better than the 25 points it surrendered to Escambia and Navarre in the May 24 jamboree.
Escambia scored on its first possession of the night and didn't find the end zone again.
The Raiders scored a defensive touchdown, recovering a Bulldog fumble in the end zone. A second Navarre touchdown came after the Raiders recovered a fumble on the Crestview 31-yard line.
Bulldog coach Tim Hatten sees potential in the defense that was missing several key players to injury in the jamboree. The defense also will improve with defensive lineman Denzel Ware’s return.
Ware — whom rivals.com rates the 15th best weak side defensive end in the country — transferred to Opp, Ala., in February, has reenrolled at Crestview and will rejoin the team in summer workouts.
"We were missing some people on defense," Hatten said. "We were playing basically a 3-4 (three linemen and four linebackers). We are going to do some tweaking on passing downs. We have to have awareness on the obvious passing situations.
"On third down and 10, they are probably going to throw the ball 10 times out of 10, and we need to get that kind of mentality as a football player."
Hatten stressed the importance of the Bulldog defense being better on third down than it was in the jamboree.
"I don't care how good you are on first down and second down," he said, "if you're not good on third down, the rest of it don't travel. You've got to stop folks and make them punt the ball and get the ball back. If you don't (stop the opposition on third down), whatever else you are doing is just a moot point.
"Our secondary was not as good as we would like for it to be. We need to be athletic behind the defensive line. I think we are really athletic on the defensive line."
Hatten said the line will be the defense’s strength.
JaQuan Daniels, Tyrone Baker and Marcus Flavors caught Hatten's eye this spring. He also liked what he saw from Gage Powers.
The question remains as to whether Justin Abdo will be on the offensive line or defensive line.
"We've got to figure that (where Abdo will play) out," Hatten said. "He's got to be able to contribute somewhere. And I think, based on his past, he's contributed better on the offensive line than anywhere else.
"He plays hard with a lot of energy and I don't want to put him in a place he's not going to be successful. He's a good high school football player, and those are the guys you win with."
A key to the defensive line in the fall will be Ware’s return. His presence up front allows coaches to move other players around and enhance the defense.
"If big Denzel is in, we punch JaQuan back at linebacker," Hatten said. "He has great football game speed, when you watch him on film. We automatically become super athletic at linebacker."
Daniels’ presence at linebacker would certainly help a position that was somewhat short on numbers in the jamboree, as would the return of Amp Seals and D.J. Stewart, who missed the jamboree due to injuries.
Kyle Koontz, last year's leading tackler, was the only experienced Bulldog linebacker who played in the jamboree.
"We weren't very athletic at linebacker during our jamboree," Hatten said. "We were out-athleted at that place on both sides of the ball. One kid that hadn't played football in three years played, and on the other side was a transfer learning a new defense.
"We were really youthful at those positions — not necessarily by age, but experience.”
Hatten's biggest concerns for the defense rest on the Bulldog defensive backfield.
"We've got to get better back there," Hatten said. "With Jaylynne (Robinson) playing both ways, he didn't have but a week of reps on defense (in spring practice). And then (Devin) Siler had about three days and he's got to get better.
"Demetrice Smith was the only starter from last year (that started the jamboree)."
Dominique Gaines, Keenan Manci and Trent Stepp also started in the secondary in the jamboree. It’s undetermined how much Gaines, Manci and Stepp will play in the fall.
Robinson, Siler and Malique Studevan have a high chance of starting in the secondary.
Hatten is concerned, but he remains optimistic that the secondary will come together.
"I'm sure if I was watching us play defense I'd say, 'We are going to throw it every down,'" he said. "But that's good for us. I like the position we are in right now."
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at email@example.com, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.