10 questions to ask about upcoming TRM football season

Published 5:45 am Wednesday, August 8, 2007

With practice now underway and the start of the season less than a month from now, here are 10 things to ask about this year's T.R. Miller Tigers football team.
1. Which game will be the game of the season?
Last year T.R. Miller suffered its first loss to W.S. Neal since 1996 and just its second setback in its previous 24 meetings. T.R. Miller hasn't lost at W.S. Neal since a 6-3 setback in 1985 and hasn't lost two in a row to the Blue Eagles since W.S. Neal won three in a row from 1970-72.
Is there anybody out there who doesn't think those items will be in the back of the minds of the T.R. Miller players and coaching staff when it visits East Brewton Oct. 26?
2. Which contest is the biggest trap game?
It was all the Tigers could do to win a wild 38-34 shoot-out over the Jackson Aggies last season at Brewton Municipal Stadium. Do not expect things to be any easier when T.R. Miller heads to Jackson Oct. 12.
3. What will be the most important item at T.R. Miller games this season?
It will probably be the program. It will take T.R. Miller fans a while to figure out who is who on a Tigers team that returns just three offensive starters (linemen Mabry Cook, Sam Pendergrass and Wes McLellan) and one defensive starter (linebacker Cody Swain) from a year ago.
The Tigers coaching staff has also undergone vast changes. The varsity staff has two new coaches, Mikel Riggs (wide receivers) and Chris Baxter (defensive coordinator). Marc Edge has moved from defensive coordinator to assistant head coach. Eddie Brundidge has moved from linebackers and special teams to offensive coordinator.
4. Which position will all eyes be on?
Right or wrong, quarterback is the spot most people focus on first. Junior John Mathieu and freshman Wil Riggs are battling for the right to be the Tigers new signal caller. Neither has made a varsity start.
5. Which first-year player or players could make the biggest impact?
Call it a tie between seniors Fred Samuel and Brandon Andrews. Both players have been productive athletes in other sports, but are giving football a try this year.
Samuel, who was third in the Class 4A state shot put last spring, worked out at guard during spring training. Andrews, who was eighth in the state 100-meter dash last spring and a starter for T.R. Miller's Final Four basketball team last winter, is making a bit to land a spot at wide receiver.
6. What could be the biggest difference for T.R. Miller this season?
It could be size up front. After several seasons of linemen struggling to hit 200 pounds, the Tigers should have a lot more beef on the line with tackles Wes McClellan (6-4, 298 lb. sr.) and Sam Pendergrass (6-7, 295 lb. sr.). Samuel would be another 250-pound plus body up front if he wins a spot, possibly at guard.
7. What could be T.R. Miller's biggest area of concern?
Take your pick on a team that returns just four total starters from a year ago, but it could be linebacker. Sophomore Cody Swain was the lone returning defensive starter a year ago at linebacker and he began practice Monday on the disabled list with an arm injury. Senior Will Waters emerged from spring as a candidate for one linebacker spot, but the other spots figure to be up for grabs. Waters and Swain also figured to be the top two candidates for tight end.
8. Who will make up the running back crew?
The Tigers graduated their top four rushers (Justin Gomez, Jamal Middleton, Travis Holland and Tanner Shehan) from a year ago. Senior Keyara Matthews is the top leading rusher from a year ago with 178 yards. Junior Matt Lane and sophomore Cortez Banks both averaged better than six yards a carry in limited duty last season.
9. What is the most unproven area?
It could be wide receiver. Returning T.R. Miller players caught a combined seven passes for 135 yards last season. Senior Seth Holland is the leading returning receiver from a year ago with four catches for 87 yards. Matthews and Banks are the only other Tigers to make a catch last season. All three were primarily used out of the backfield.
Holland may get a lot more time at wide out this year. He will be joined by senior Brandon Andrews, junior Bradley McCreary and sophomore Terez Lane. Senior Joseph Shultz also got a long look in the spring as a blocking receiver.
10. What is the overall outlook?
It is hard to picture the Tigers averaging just over 35 points a game like they did last year with no returning starters at the skill positions. That figures to leave a smaller margin of error for a defense that allowed an average of 21.6 points a game last year and an average of 26 points a game over the final seven games. If the defense can cut those numbers down, the offense can get away without as firepower.
While this may be a year of figuring out who is who, the Tigers still should have enough to crash the postseason party.

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