NATICK, Mass. – ESPN Boston preseason No. 5 Natick conducted a tri-scrimmage with Braintree and North Attleborough on Wednesday.
Here are some thoughts and observations from the three sides:
The Missing: The proceedings were in some ways marked by who wasn’t there, with each of the sides suiting up without some of their top players. Natick saw top receiver Brian Dunlap held out after he’d rolled an ankle during Saturday’s scrimmage. The injury bug also bit Braintree Saturday against Stoughton, when starting tight end and defensive end Derek Anson suffered a high ankle sprain on his final rep. Meanwhile, North Attleborough wasn’t without its own issues, as quarterback/half back Jack Blasé was limited by a hip ailment.
Full tilt: Even in Dunlap’s absence, the Redhawks looked to be near midseason form in the passing game. Troy Flutie dazzled with his trademark elusiveness in the pocket, scrambling around the backfield to make several first-down completions against Braintree’s top defensive unit. The offensive highlight of the afternoon came on Flutie’s 20-yard connection to Andrew Boynton, who made an over-the-shoulder catch on a perfect fade thrown to back right pylon in tight coverage.
Filling holes: Boynton’s score wasn’t his only contribution. He also lined up in the backfield in some two-back looks shown by the Redhawks. Natick is looking for a new feature back, following the graduation of Nick Lee. Head coach Mark Mortarelli also worked in senior Gus Black and sophomore Chad Kidd at running back on Wednesday.
It’s not the only positional battle Mortarelli was keeping an eye on. In addition to Black (also a starting OLB), he’s looking to junior T.J. Collins (5-10, 175 lbs.) to fill a hole, as well as senior Justin Montgomery, who also sat out the scrimmage because of an injury.
Working against North’s spread concepts and the double wing and Wing-T formations of Braintree, Mortarelli believes the exercise served as a good preparation for what’s to come.
“We wanted to make our kids uncomfortable,” Mortarelli said. “I wanted to see who could adjust, who could make the change playing against two different styles. I thought we did a good job overall, defensively, today.”
Step right up: North head coach Don Johnson also used Wednesday’s workout to glean a bit more information about his squad, which returns just a few starters on either side of the ball.
With Blasé limited, senior James Kummer had the majority of snaps with the first team offense at quarterback. He was working behind a new-look offensive line, which returns just one starter – senior captain Evan Sweeney, who slides over to left tackle.
The preseason snaps have been particularly important to the young line. Johnson anticipates a deep junior class to help patch the other holes on the line with Max Kroll working at right guard while Connor Ryan steps into right tackle. The battle at left guard is among the tightest in camp with Dan Kummer and Pat Munley vying for playing time.
Once the line has come together, Johnson thinks the Red Rocketeers have the elements to move the ball.
“I like what we have in the depth of our backfield and the versatility there,” Johnson said. “I think we’ll be able to show some balance and be able to throw.”
Keep your eye on … : Well, you can see him from about a mile away.
Standing 6-feet, 7-inches tall and 260 pounds, Braintree tackle Ryan Houlihan commands attention. The physical lineman made his presence felt Wednesday, particularly in the ground game. He’s not just a big frame. Also a basketball player, Houlihan has the feet to match, and he’s begun to gain the attention of college recruiters. A host of Division 2 schools have inquired about Houlihan, but Harvard has also expressed interest.
With a bruising offensive line in front of them, Connor Columbus and Mike Mahoney should find running room. Third-year Wamps head coach Brian Chamberlain is also looking for junior hoop standout Keyshaad Dixon to have an impact at receiver.
And, if all goes to plan, the Wamps – who haven’t experienced a winning season in their last nine – could break beyond their three-win total from a year ago.