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Bulldogs still a team led by good defense

After a 3-0 start to the 2008 football season, Rockdale lost five of its last seven games to miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

The Bulldogs recently finished spring practice. Here are some positives and a few things they need to work on with opening night now just three months away.

Strengths

Isaiah Gresham will return as starting quarterback, and he'll have a much-improved center to take the ball from. New center Ronald Martin had an excellent spring, and along with up-and-coming guard Jerry Mathis and tackle Tarik Dudley, the Rockdale offensive line should be much improved.

"(The team's) offensive linemen improved from last year; they're a lot stronger," Bulldogs coach Mike Etheridge said.

The defense was very good last year, allowing fewer than 10 points in five games. The unit should carry the team again, and the return of linebackers Devon Washington and Rashawn Binns helps.

Question marks

The offense was middle-of-the-pack in 2008, averaging just 18 points per game and getting shut out in three contests. Gresham's continued development is key, as well as the crew of running backs - A.J. Ward, Kyle Tippens and Binns. Etheridge also said tight end Xavier Molette had a good spring and his maturation could be a big help to Gresham and the passing game.

Neither the offense nor the defense has much coming back - just six return on defense, three on offense - which means a new crop of players will have to get better quickly if the Bulldogs are to finish above .500 for the first time since 2005.

Outlook

Etheridge was encouraged by the team's performance during spring camp but stressed the need for the fundamentals.

"We've got to get fundamentally sound (and) we've always got to work," he said. "We had a pretty good spring, (but) we got a ways to go."

Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at kurt.aschermann@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: At a glance

· Team: Rockdale football

· Coach: Mike Etheridge

· 2008 record: 5-5

· Starters returning/lost: Offense 3/8; defense 6/5

· First game: Aug. 28 vs. Madison Co.