TYLER - Finally being able to go into full contact in practice, Thursday's practices began to set the tone for the Russell-Tyler-Ruthton football team.
Starting with the Oklahoma drill - where two offensive linemen and a running back go up against a defensive lineman and linebacker in an enclosed space - and ending the morning by adding new wrinkles to the running game, the Knights' focus centered around being a hard-nosed, physical team.
"We're sick of the conditioning part, and we're ready to hit somebody," RTR running back/linebacker Jason Minett said. "It's fun to finally get some pads on and go all out on each other."
Photo by Joe Brown
Russell-Tyler-Ruthton senior Mark Borchert, right, makes a tackle on sophomore Shay Wabeke in the Oklahoma drill during Thursday’s team practice in Tyler. The Knights look to take a step up in the Little Sioux Conference after finishing 4-4 in the regular season. For more photos, go to cu.marshallindependent.com.
With six returning players on the offense, including four linemen, RTR looks to pound teams with tight I-formation and split back looks.
"We're excited about our line this year, bringing back a lot of kids who only played one-way last year that will play offensive line as well as defensive line," head coach Steve Borchert said. "They came in pretty good shape so I'm excited about both our offensive and defensive lines this year."
With a smaller offensive line, the Knights also threw in a shotgun spread package, allowing their quicker O-line to help with sweeps and quarterback bootlegs.
"We got a lot of speed on the line and that's going to help a lot," said senior lineman Chad Lingen. "With that speed, we can stay in front of (the ballcarrier) and get a guy on someone."
"We're probably not going to be knocking a lot of people around in that spread offense, but that's not what it's designed for," Borchert said. "It does help to have some of those 200-pound kids instead of the 240-pound kids who don't move quite as well."
Last season, Lance Weber and Minett combined to run for 1,302 yards and 18 touchdowns in the regular season.
With Weber graduating, the bulk of the rushing attack falls on Minett's shoulders, but the senior has shown he is more than capable of bearing the load. In the first round of the Section 3A playoffs against Canby, Minett ran for 242 yards and five touchdowns on 31 carries.
"Jason's a very tough kid, a very durable kid," Borchert said. "He's not going to get hurt. I have no doubts he'll have a very good year and be our leader and get most of our touches."
While the offense is looking to run past opponents, the Knights' defense is awaiting its chance to run over opponents. Minett returns as the team's leading tackler, finishing second in the area with 106 tackles in the regular season. Lingen finished tied with Murray County Central's Alex Peterson as the area leaders in sacks, with nine.
Again, Weber's presence will be missed on the defensive side of the ball, as the former Knight helped clog up the middle with Minett in RTR's 4-4 defensive front. Filling that void will be junior Travis King, who Borchert believes can cover a lot of ground with his athleticism and aggressiveness.
"(King's) going to be a big part of our defense," Lingen said. "He's fast, he's quick, he's going to be a big part on the defense. Hopefully he'll step up and fill Lance's spot."
RTR opens the season on Sept. 3 on the road against Canby.
NOTES - Competing for RTR's starting quarterback position is the incumbent, senior Taylor Newton, and junior Philip Madsen. Borchert on the QBs: "Philip moves really well and can throw on the run very well. And Taylor knows our offense inside and out. It's still kind of up in the air. I'm going to give both those kids lots of looks and make up my mind sometime before our first game." ... Minett's calf was taped up during Thursday's practice after suffering an injury during a softball game. Borchert said the injury should not affect Minett during practice. ... Borchert said 40 kids reported for two-a-days. "We're over what we don't have, we're just worried about who's here," Borchert said. "There aren't going to be any late walk-ons."