So we know it’s just a scrimmage. But there was enough good-on-good action in Saturday night’s “preseason-ish” matchup between the Newton Rams and 2016 Class AAA state champion Cedar Grove to be able to glean a few nuggets of insight.
Here are five takeaways we gleaned from last night’s 28-7 Newton win over the Saints, in no particular order.
1. Nuru Tinch looks like a star, if….. Newton coach Terrance Banks was cautiously optimistic about what he saw from his 5-foot-11, 212 pound senior tailback. Newton’s public address announcer Bill Dolan called Tinch a tank, and he ran like it. 90 yards on 11 carries and a score. He showed off an array of moves, such as quick feet on lateral movement, one-cut-and-go capability once he hits the hole and the strength to finish runs. But here comes the cautious part. “We’ve just got to keep him upright and keep him healthy,” Banks said. If Tinch avoids the injury bug in 2017, get ready for a potential all-state campaign from him.
2. Physicality will be this team’s calling card. Granted, it was a Class AAA school. But it's a pretty good one. Banks said he wanted to see Newton look like a 7A school, and it did. The offensive and defensive lines were stout. Of course, everyone knows about Darnell Jefferies. But fellow DT Brandon Green looks like a monster as well. The offensive line regularly pushed back the line of scrimmage for Tinch and Adarius Thomas, as well as providing ample time for senior quarterback Myron Middlebrooks to make decisions in the pocket.
3. Experience looks good on Middlebrooks. Speaking of Middlebrooks, the 6-foot-2, 190 pound signal caller had a game that caused Banks to compare Middlebrooks with another Newton star QB in Romario Johnson. The comparison highlighted Middlebrooks’ savviness in the pocket, which was perhaps exemplified best on Middlebrooks’ touchdown pass to Thomas. On the 35-yard scoring strike, Middlebrooks dropped back, sat in the pocket, scanned his progressions and found Thomas over the middle for the touchdown.
“It was really just a go route,” Middlebrooks said. “I dropped back and my first read wasn’t open, so I started climbing the pocket. At first I was thinking I’m gonna run. But then I thought, ‘I’m not live, so let me go ahead and throw it.’ I saw (Thomas) coming across the middle and got it to him. It was a good play. I’m just learning from last year how to read defenses better.”
Next level stuff, indeed.
4. Wideouts have some work to do. Perhaps the part of the team that took the biggest hit from graduation was the wide receiver corps. Gone are standouts J.J. Holloman (now at Georgia) and Dante Johnson. Stepping up are guys like Mike Mathison, who looks like the standout of the bunch, as well as sophomores Jerrol Hines and Robert Lewis. The unit dropped some balls Saturday, but also made some good plays. Thomas showed he’s a viable option as a receiver out of the back field. One thing to watch for is Jefferies, not only playing on both the defensive and offensive lines, but lining up at tight end and, occasionally, beyond.
“Well (Darnell) wants to, as much as possible, play on both sides of the ball,” Banks said. “So we’d love to add 300 pounds of tight end to the offense. And then every now and then, we’ll flank him out wide, and if the opponents are smart, they’ll bring someone out there. If not, it’s him against your corner, and we’ll throw it out there to him.”
5. The physicality wasn’t just limited to the lines. Newton calls its defense “Blue Swarm,” and Banks wants his D to make flocking to the football a habit. The Rams did that Saturday. But they didn’t just swarm. They also struck…hard. Linebacker Cozbi Craig, Green and defensive back Tim Newton were just a few defenders laying wood on Cedar Grove ball carriers. Tinch and Thomas were dishing out contact even on offense.
BONUS: UGA wide receiver commit, Jadon Haselwood is as good as advertised.
If there was a low point Saturday it was the amount of turnovers and penalties Newton committed. But there are two more weeks for the Rams to clean things up before Drew comes to town.