First-year head coach Jason Thompson saw vast room for improvement, but liked the effort as the Sterlington Panthers completed their third spring football practice session Wednesday afternoon.
Thompson hopes to mold the Panthers into a more physical team by the time August rolls around. But those are issues Thompson can deal with for now.
“We need to get used to playing physical and playing fast,” Thompson said. “That will come in time. I've been real pleased with the desire and want-to. We just have to do things at a faster pace.”
Citing fatigue, Thompson shortened Wednesday's practice.
“We cut it a little short, trying to get their legs back,” Thompson said. “We're missing that burst because the legs are tired and the bodies are tired. But, again, the effort is there.”
While retaining the majority of the coaching staff, Thompson has brought in Bobby Breen as offensive coordinator and Jeremy Many was strength and conditioning coordinator and defensive tackles coach.
Breen, the former Richwood OC, quarterbacked West Monroe's first state championship team in 1993.
With Breen at the helm, the Panthers are operating from their third offensive set in less than a year. Following an 0-4 start last season, the Panthers moved from the flexbone to the splitback veer. Under Breen's system, the Panthers will line up in an I formation with a fullback and a tailback.
“It's more West Monroe-like,” Thompson said of the new system. “With the number of guys we have back on the offensive line, I think that plays to our strength. We can run a power game and stay behind those big bodies.”
Many joins the Sterlington staff from West Ridge Middle School in West Monroe.
“Those are two good hires,” Thompson said. “Both of those guys come from championship programs and bring a lot to the table.”
Quarterback Devon Murphy, who was 6-2 as a freshman starter after being handed the reigns of the offense at midseason, is being challenged by Blake Lacaz. A senior-to-be Lacaz has returned to Sterlington after attending school at West Monroe where he did not play football.
“Both of those guys have been impressive,” Thompson said. “There's a good little competition between those two. Competition breeds success and we're trying to get as much of that as we can in camp.”
Austin Haman, whose 2012 season was cut short by a knee injury, is the fullback with Jaylon Wade at tailback.
Page 2 of 2 - Conley Harris, Chase Parks and Tyler Buffington — a trio of seniors-to-be — return up front.
Defensively, the Panthers has switched to the 4-2-5 from a 3-3 alignment.
“We are putting in a completely different scheme, defensively,” Thompson said. “I've been pleased with the mental aspect as far as the way they're taking it all in.”
Thompson will wear the dual hats of head coach and defensive coordinator for the time being.
“I've self-titled myself as defensive coordinator for now,” Thompson said. “In time, once the other guys become comfortable with what they're doing, I'll be turning it over to them.”
Linebacker Cody McGuire, the Panthers' leading tackler last season, is being held out of spring drills. Coming off of a pulled hamstring, McGuire injured his knee on Monday and is scheduled for an MRI on Thursday.
Other returning starters on defense include ends Tristan VandeGevel and Demarcus Matthews and free safety Trent Raffray.
QuenTerrius Gray and JaQuarius Douglas, who played in the offensive backfield last season, have moved into starting roles in the secondary.
Sterlington will break camp following the spring game against Caldwell on Thursday, May 16. Starting time is 6 p.m. at the Panthers' Den.