SHREWSBURY –- Thoughts and observations from this morning’s annual preseason scrimmage between Brockton and St. John’s of Shrewsbury, on the grass at Pioneer Field:
Blurring the lines: In three series of starters against starters, each team scored once. But overall, I would say St. John’s was the aggressor for most of the morning, given the efficiency of their “Blur” offense, a very uptempo no-huddle look with spread principles, and the way they exploited the perimeters for multiple first downs.
One particular sequence that stands out is in the Pioneers’ first offensive series. Tailback Shadrach Abrokwah took an inside dive handoff and just before he hit the hole, cut back to his left and followed a big seam 15 yards down the left side. The Pioneers, with the ball now at the 10, went straight into the hurry-up. Before Brockton’s defense could get settled, Andrew Smiley hit Davon Jones in the right flat on a flare route, and the sophomore did the rest, diving over the pylon for the Pioneers’ only score.
“It really comes down to conditioning, staying focused, and making sure that we can execute our assignments,” head coach John Andreoli said. “It’s ball security and it’s playing penalty-free, because you really cannot stop that offense for reasons that you cause yourself. You’ve gotta make the defense make a mistake.
“You can’t make a mistake to stop that offense, you have to make sure it’s moving and you’re executing. That’s why I thought it was a good day for us today.”
Key injuries: Scary moment for the Pioneers on their second play from scrimmage, when incumbent starting quarterback Connor Kurtz went down with an injury to his left knee after getting his leg tangled in the pile while getting dropped for a loss. A diagnosis on the severity of the injury, or to what extent, was unknown after the scrimmage ended. Kurtz had to be helped off the field, and was seen on crutches on the sideline.
Kurtz’s backup, Smiley, took over duties for the rest of the afternoon. The 6-foot-4 junior looked sharp at times, tossing a 40-yard fade to Jones in the third offensive series, and making a few plays with his feet after getting flushed out of the pocket.
Meanwhile Brockton lost defensive back Micah Morel, a preseason ESPN Boston All-State selection, in the third series with an injury to his left shoulder. Morel will be re-evaluated on Monday, but having him out for an extended period of time could be a bad blow to the Boxers’ defense.
Shadrach reads and reacts: When you hear the term “blur offense”, it’s usually in reference to the no-huddle spread scheme run by Chip Kelly’s Oregon Ducks, who often try to snap the ball in 15 to 20 seconds. After evaluating his skill personnel, Andreoli felt his offense was up to the task, and as previously mentioned they looked crisp at times.
One of the foundations of this offense is the “Inside Zone Read”, a dive play out of shotgun that typically involves zone blocking principles up front, and a sharp cutback from the tailback. The play made a Heisman candidate out of LaMichael James last year; here in Shrewsbury, the play could lead to a breakout senior season for Abrokwah.
At 5-foot-7 and 205 pounds, and blessed with both speed and a powerful lower body, Abrokwah is essentially a sprinter in a hockey player’s body. His low center of gravity makes it difficult to get a clean shot, and today he used that to his advantage, repeatedly cutting back to the weak side on these zone plays to run off multiple gains of 10 yards or more.
“It’s all in the zone play,” Abrokwah said. “Once the offense flows one way, most likely the cutback is going to be on the other side, so I read my blockers, was patient, and just hit the hole.”
How quickly does he decide where he’s going to go on a zone play?
“It’s all instinct,” he smiled. “You have to feel the offense, and that’s what I did.”
New-look backfield: Devoid of a pure fullback, Brockton didn’t run its trademark Pro formation today, instead opting for a modified spread triple option popularized by college programs such as Georgia Tech and Navy.
The change was made to better utilize senior quarterback Augie Roberts’ dual-threat capabilities, and things started well in the first series. Roberts is a runner first, and on the second play from scrimmage he demonstrated his running ability, slipping outside a crack back block from Jeff Celeste for a 25-yard gain. But he also has a quality arm, connecting with Lorenzo Lovesy on a fly route for a 50-yard touchdown pass that was negated by a block in the back (an excessive celebration penalty was tacked on for good measure, too).
The Boxers rotated Morel and Aaron LeClair at one wingback position, Louis Jimenez and Moise Edouard at the other, and senior Ricardo Calixte at the fullback spot. Pat Healy is also in the mix at wingback, a baseball outfielder who is back in football after taking the year off.
“I just think it takes advantage of Austin’s skills,” head coach Peter Colombo said. “You didn’t see the whole package obviously today, and he’s not limited to that, but I just think it gives us a good opportunity for him to take advantage of his skills. We’ll see, we’ll adjust as it needs.”
The Boxers were good at times, but some of the problems that plagued them in last year’s disappointing 5-6 campaign –- namely, red zone struggles –- reared their heads. Jimenez did score from 10 yards out on the Boxers’ second drive, but on the first drive they were halted at the Pioneers’ five yard line. First, Matt Murphy made a stuff of the ballcarrier at the line of scrimmage. Then on the next play, fourth and goal from the five, Roberts was sacked by Andrew Sullivan.
It was a cycle that flashed in and out all afternoon, with the Pioneers bringing the heat in the front seven behind Connor Gatto, Sam Norton and Barron Dandridge.
Jones brings the wood, and the flash: I’m going to try my best to avoid the hyperbole highway this season with Davon Jones –- he is just a sophomore, after all, and he did fumble a ball away -– but it’s hard not to be impressed every time he comes to play.
Roaming around at free safety, Jones covers a lot of ground in the secondary, and played the bump well in the slot when the Pioneers went to a man press in the red zone. He showed off his live hips on offense, plugging himself into the slot and making defenders miss with multiple jukes.
But the trait that probably sticks out most at this point is his physicality. As the last line of defense against the run, Jones brings considerable pop for someone that’s 6-foot and 180 pounds, and it is certainly loud.
Earlier in the week, Andreoli told ESPNBoston.com of Jones, “If he continues to develop the way he develops, the way he’s playing now, he’s got the ability to play at the highest level” of college football.
“He’s a football player,” Andreoli said. “He doesn’t want to come off the field, he doesn’t care how tired he is, he’ll take a sip and get back on the field. He loves to play the game. And he plays hard, and he plays it the right way. He’s just got to continue to feel comfortable in our scheme, get good at reading receivers.”
Referring to Jones’ success so far as a guard for the Pioneers’ state semifinalist basketball team, Andreoli continued, “The thing too about him is, he’s played in a lot of big games –- basketball-wise, and in football. So he’s used to competing on the big stage here at the varsity level, so he can just basically play the game and get in the flow of the game.”
Jones says he’s learned a lot in the last 12 months, and has become more vocal in the secondary, calling out checks. Asked about those progressions he’s made in the mental side, Jones chalked it up to “muscle memory”.
“The coaches just pound it into my head – pass first, run second,” he said. “So I see it, and I just come up running fast.”