Newton football coach Terrance Banks did a great job downplaying Saturday’s spring culmination matchup with Alcovy as nothing more or less than a mere scrimmage.
But after Newton’s 27-0 win over the Tigers, what couldn’t be downplayed is the fact that the Rams have quite a few things to be pleased about going into the summer. Here are five of the biggest takeaways from Newton’s performance Saturday night at Sharp Stadium.
Quarterback play was big. I mean, literally. Rising senior Myron Middlebrooks had an admirable junior season after taking the reins of Newton’s offense after Romario Johnson graduated. Passing for 1,381 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for another 277 and three scores isn’t nothing to sneeze at in your first year under center in Class AAAAAAA ball. But Saturday night, Middlebrooks looked noticeably bigger, stronger and faster. The 6-foot-2 signal caller says he added about 10 pounds to his frame, putting him close to 190 pounds, where last year he played around 175. Middlebrooks looked more decisively in quarterback keeper plays, and he hit his corners faster and showed off good acceleration — particularly on one long touchdown run late in the first quarter where he stretched out to cross the pylon. Middlebrooks said his breakaway speed also benefited from a year with track head coach Kevin Barnes. With what will probably be more of a run heavy offense, a faster and beefed up Middlebrooks can’t hurt Newton’s chances of being productive.
Double trouble at tailback. Those of you who took in the action Saturday night may have witnessed two of the state’s top returning running backs in rising senior Nuru Tinch and rising junior Adarius Thomas. Tinch was plagued with an injury prone 2016, but still rushed for 214 yards on 40 carries and a pair of touchdowns. Meanwhile, Thomas was thrust into more of a prominent role than Banks had originally planned last year. After the transfer of Kurt Taylor to Grayson, it paved the way for Thomas and Kentavis Terrell to share the load of carries last season. Thomas was admirable, rushing for 394 yards and a score. But the gains he’s made during the offseason are nothing short of amazing. It’s a bit of a thunder and lightening combo, as both backs have considerable speed. Tinch, a 6-foot, 215 pounder with offers from Ball State, Troy, Central Michigan and UAB, will be more of a downhill running threat with his size. These two, paired with a bigger, faster Middlebrooks, could make for a hard-to-stop rushing attack.
The Darnell Jefferies sweepstakes is on. It’s no secret that the 6-foot-3, 270 pound d-end has garnered much attention from across the nation — particularly the southeast. But what is interesting is that there are signs that 2016-17 National Champion Clemson is even hotter on his trail than before. Among Jefferies’ 25 offers, Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Auburn are among them. But some recruiting “gurus” are thinking that Georgia — once an assumed favorite — may have been replaced by Clemson. In fact, a Clemson coach was on hand Saturday night during the spring game, presumably to get a peak at Newton’s big time defensive lineman. Earlier, Jefferies said he would take his time and enjoy the process without rushing. But where the talented Ram lands for college will definitely be a storyline we’ll follow through the summer and the upcoming season.
Speaking of defense….Newton looked solid, particularly in the front seven. Granted, an Alcovy offense with a retooled — and quite frankly, overmatched — offensive line didn’t put up much of a fight. But still, it was impressive to see players like junior linebacker Craig Cozbi get in on making some plays. There was a stint where a blitzing Cozbi shot up the middle of Alcovy’s offensive line several times in a row, either sacking Alcovy’s quarterback, helping cause a sack or creating a tackle for loss on a ball carrier. It’s a unit that won’t be short on speed and physicality. Class of 2018 DBs Jaison Taylor and Elija Godwin will provide good back end help to what may be a tremendously stingy bunch by the time 2017 is done.
Shoulder chips proudly on display. Coach Banks has repeatedly said that he wants to see this year’s Newton squad become the most physical team in the state. And on Saturday, albeit in a scrimmage, the Rams played like a team chomping at the bit to prove a point. There were plenty of Rams running hard and fast down hill to make big hits on defense and ball carriers breaking tackles and running over people on offense. Not to mention the line opening holes and dominating the line of scrimmage. It’s a start, but a good sign that a team will take being physical seriously is that it will take to task an overmatched opponent without reservation. That’s what Newton did in the Alcovy scrimmage. But Banks said he knows that more work is needed in order to be able to do the same with the likes of Grayson and Archer in region play.