Competition bringing out best in Jackets

By Jay Compton jcompton@civitasmedia.com

July 21, 2014

The Middlesboro Yellow Jackets had a very productive last week in participating in 7-on-7 scrimmages and games against a lot of different teams over three days.

Passing days at Corbin, Union College and Cumberland Gap gave new head coach Zach Massengill his first real chance to see his team go against other squads in competitive environments.

“The biggest thing is it gives you a chance to compete against different people this time of year when you’re not in pads,” he said. “You don’t know exactly what you have until you get to the first game but this give you an idea how you match up athletically, at least.”

He’s been very pleased with what he’s seen from his group of skill position players.

“Right now I feel like we’re pretty solid at our skill positions two deep everywhere. We have kids that are athletic and they’re in competition with each other for starting jobs right now. We just have to decipher who is going to play which positions, we know we’ll have quality depth and that will hopefully carry us throughout the season,” Massengill said, not wanting to single out individual players that have performed well.

The Jackets will present a multiple offense with looks as varied as a full-house backfield line up in the wishbone to a spread formation with four receivers out wide.

Seniors Ryan Pittman and Seth Barton led the team last year by combining for over 2,200 yards and 28 touchdowns on the ground. Those two again figure to see plenty of time together in the backfield with both able to move to slot receiver spots in the spread and help in the passing game.

Gabe Fuson, Hayden Burnside and Parker Evans are among the players also competing for time in the backfield.

Outside the Jackets return senior receiver Jake Brock. He caught 31 passes for 481 yards and a team-high six touchdowns last season. Others stepping up during the off-season include Jesse Hoskins, Logan Capps and Tanner Hoskins along with the backs and some athletic freshmen.

Senior Major Edwards returns at quarterback. He started the first four games last year and every game the year before that but suffered an ankle injury that led to Donnie Foister starting the final eight games. Edwards is competing with fellow senior Tyler Yoakum for the quarterback spot this summer. Yoakum was his backup in 2012 but didn’t play football last season.

So far both have shown the ability to move the team and Massengill added that both can be a threat on the ground as well passing the ball.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Massengill said of having experience play-makers, not only at quarterback, but at most of the skill positions.

The 7-on-7 competition has been a valuable tool for the Middlesboro defense.

“It’s really good to see different offenses. Obviously, you have different skill levels and skill sets between teams. Some are vertical passing teams and others are more West Coast-type with underneath passing games,” Massengill added. “It gives your defense a chance to see all kinds of different looks and it shows you where some holes might be.

“Defensively, Hayden Burnside and Jared Hoskins are getting better on the inside. In the secondary we’ve played around and tried people at different positions. We have some combinations that are better than others right now and it’s better to find those things out now than during the season.”

The in-team competition ramps up this week with the start of two-a-days. Once the team goes to camp and starts working in pads the starters at each position will start to sort themselves out. Middlesboro opens the season at Grant County on Aug. 23.