Eagles to get sneak preview in Kickoff Classic at Andalusia
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
It may not count in the won/loss column, but convincing W.S. Neal Blue Eagles coach Shane Smothers that Thursday's exhibition Kickoff Classic game at Andalusia does not mean anything would be a tough sell.
"We're playing the game to win. We're approaching this game just like we would a regular season game," Smothers said.
The Blue Eagles will get a sneak preview of their 2004 team against an Andalusia squad that went 2-8, 2-5 in Class 4A Region 1, last year under Tom Causey.
"If you just look at won/lost, they're probably one of the weaker teams we'll play this season, but they are a Class 4A school and they've got good numbers. This is also Causey's second year with the program so their players have had a year now to learn and understand his system," Smothers said.
Under normal circumstances, Smothers would be right about the experience factor in a coaching regime. However, Andalusia returns just two starters on offense and only four on defense.
"They were hit hard on the offensive side, especially with their skill people. In the past, they've been a running team. They tend to run out of the spread formation with a two-tailback lineup. Then they'll try to mix things up occasionally through the pass. For the most part, they like to control the clock with their running game," Smothers said.
In addition to stopping Andalusia's ball control offense, Smothers said the battle within the battle will be up front.
"Andalusia is pretty inexperienced up front, but they've got good size. They've got about three starters 260 pounds or better. That will be a good early test for our offensive line," Smothers said.
Both W.S. Neal and Andalusia are expected to play their number one unit in the first half and through the first series in the third quarter. After that the benches will empty.
"We want to win, but a good measuring stick is what the score is when the starters come out. We also want to see how our second and third units perform in a game situation," Smothers said.
While the game offers a chance for the Blue Eagles to work on some things, there are also a couple of down sides.
"You always have the risk of getting a key player injured in an exhibition game. That's probably my biggest concern. We also don't want to show too much to coaches who may be in the stands scouting us. We'll run some of the things we will run in the opener against Eufaula, but we're obviously not going to show everything," Smothers said.
The Blue Eagles have not needed a game to be hit with the injury bug. Projected starting quarterback, sophomore Marquis Barksdale, is battling a hip pointer and will not play Thursday. Instead newcomer, senior Daniel Hodge, will run the show with the number one unit.
"Marquis is day-to-day, but that hip pointer is causing him a lot of pain. Daniel has come a long way in a short time. He has done a good job of picking up and understanding what we want him to do. Right now for this game we've got Daniel, who didn't play last year, and freshmen behind him," Smothers said. "There is the possibility we could move (sophomore) Justin Smith (last year's starter) from
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running back back to quarterback if Daniel got hurt or we don't like the way he is performing in an emergency situation."
W.S. Neal will also be without center Brandon Gannt and defensive lineman Heath Stewart.
"Brandon is still recovering from shoulder surgery last spring and Heath has been having trouble with his ACL. He is in the process of having an MRI. That's two linemen we won't have available Thursday," Smothers said.