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Passing game key for Newton in '09
Rams ready to chase playoff spot in 2-AAAAA

COVINGTON - A new year will bring a new offensive system for Newton's football team as it prepares to start the season.

Even though the Rams have a plethora of running backs, look for them to pass the ball a little bit more than they did last season.

"We're probably going to spread the field a little more and throwing the ball a little more," Newton coach Nick Collins said. "We felt like going into last year our glaring weakness was our ability to run the football. I think we went from being one-dimensional on the pass side to being one-dimensional on the run side.

"We've got to balance it back out and be able to throw it on first down. If we throw the football and complete it on first down, it will keep teams from loading the box on us because we're going to be pretty decent at running back."

The Rams have seven potential candidates at running back in DJ Hill, Akeem Hunt, Torrian Hunte, Javonte Williams, Antonio Williams, Chris Dickerson and Deveneer Gibson.

Collins will have to get a lot out of his backs as he hopes to run the ball 50 times per game and complete 70 percent of the passes.

The other skill position that is open for the taking is quarterback. Even though junior Tyree Williams is in the driver's seat, senior Anthony Johnson and sophomore Gmatreian Brown still have a chance.

Vying for playing time at receiver are Deshawn McKenzie, Deandre Rashada, Devon Mann, Bart Lindsey, Shaquille Lindsey and Johnson.

"The sleeper in the bunch is Deshawn McKenzie," Collins said. "He had a really, really good summer. He's still young (a sophomore) and has a lot to learn about the position. But he's going to be a go-to guy at some time."

The offensive line should be improved with new additions Robert Roquemore and Clay Johnson joining returning starter Travis Townley.

"(Clay Johnson) has really stepped up in one of the guard positions. It offers us a little depth now and it's given us some size and strength up front," Collins said.

In order for the Rams to improve, the defense will have to prevent their opponents from making the big plays, as well as doing a better job on third down and creating more turnovers.

There is still one big question that needs to be answered. Who is going to fill in the other linebacker position opposite Hill?

"It's a wide open competition with Sammy Merchant, Cornelius Hudson, Antonio Williams are battling, but no one has taken that position," Collins said. "We'll stay with our five-man front, but we'll be a little more mobile this year. You'll see us do some four-man stuff again, but we'll be even more mobile in our four-man front."

The Rams are again blessed with size, experience and quantity up front. In fact, Newton has eight potential players on the defensive line.

"We feel good about our defensive line. We've been able to take Jamal and Torrian Hunte and move them inside," Collins said. "That allows us to be more flexible in resting Justice Ejike and Derrick Clark.

"Treyvon Richardson, a freshman, is going to help us some. He's got great size at 6-3, 300-plus (pounds). He'll play in the middle and that's going to help us some. Robert Roquemore is going to spell us some at defense; that's going to help us a little bit. We're going to be able to have some size in there.

"Cadarius Terrell is finally healthy so he can play some end which will let those guys move inside. We think that Shodrick King will help us a lot up front. We're deeper up front then we have been in the past. We've been missing size and experience in the past couple of years."

The secondary will not be without experience with Bart Lindsey returning for his senior year.

The overall goal for Newton this season is to go over .500 and make it to the Class AAAAA playoffs.

"I know in the direction of building this program it may be a little much to ask because of what we're dealing with. But those are always my expectations," Collins said.

Manny Fils can be reached at manny.fils

@newtoncitizen.com.

SideBar: At a glance

· Team: Newton football

· Coach: Nick Collins (third year)

· Last year's record: 3-7 overall, 2-5 Region 2-AAAAA

· First game: Friday vs. Alcovy, 7:30 p.m.