At every level of football - NFL, college or high school - the first 2-3 weeks of games can often be sloppy.
That’s what makes preseason football even more imperative, and that’s why area teams’ use of joint practices and scrimmages even more useful.
Bristol Eastern, St. Paul and New Britain ran a combined practice session on Eastern’s turf field Aug. 27, and each team got some use out of it.
“It’s only going to make us better and continue to try and hammer home some of the things we’ve been working on,” Eastern head coach Anthony Julius said.
Although all three teams got some much-needed use out of the practice, Eastern may have received the most benefit. The two main reasons why are the new offensive system the Lancers are implementing and the program’s low numbers.
First, the offense has changed from a more simplistic approach that included downfield throws up the seams and sidelines, into more of an air raid offense that spreads defenses horizontally with shorter, higher percentage throws. Instead of 15-yard pass plays, there will be more 5-yard routes and slower, more methodical drives downfield.
“It’s more pick my poison. Read the defense and see where I am,” Lancers first-year starting quarterback Bryce Curtin said. “It gives me a lot more freedom and makes the reads and throws easier on the receivers. I think, all around, there’s no benefit the other system had over this one.”
Curtin, who sat behind three-year starter Justin Marshall last year, says there has been a bit of a learning curve and transitional period as he moves over from being the Lancers’ top receiver to under center.
“I’ve never ran anything like this [system] before, but it’s really helped me and made me a 10 times better quarterback,” Curtin said. “I’ve re-learned defenses and what I’m looking for each play so I know going out there exactly where I’m throwing. Last year, I did know how to read defenses, but now I’m just 1,000 times more confident. When Coach AJ gave me the playbook, he gave me each and every read, and he made me look at the defense in a different way.”
Julius says the biggest change is the addition of run-pass option plays (RPOs), which he believes will put defenses in tougher situations. He saw some of those pay off during the practice session, as Curtin was able to fake handoffs, freeze the linebackers and hit a receiver in-stride in the middle of the field.
“As a defensive guy, I don’t love RPOs. I feel like it’s cheating,” Julius said. “I grew up with a defensive background, but with what the rules allow, it’s a great part of your offense.”
Curtin said he learned from the limited reps in two games that he got as the signal caller last season, but he believes he has grown all offseason to get to a comfortable point in the offense. He says he worked on his weaknesses with short-ball accuracy, and he’s learned the intricate parts of the position.
“I’m ready to get out there and ball out,” Curtin said.
This Lancers program is smaller in numbers than it has been in the past, and that’s why practicing against more experienced teams can help in the long run.
“[These practices are] extremely crucial because we only have 30 or so [varsity] kids so it’s hard getting a scout team together. So going up against these bigger, stronger kids that are actually varsity talented and seasoned really helps out,” Curtin said. “We have a lot of young kids. We lost so many people last year. Our whole receiving corps, our whole defensive backfield, most of our defensive line. A lot of new pieces going in. They just need experience. That’s all it is, and we’ll be ready for Week 1.”
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org