Questions were answered and a few more remain as the Longview Lobos wrapped up spring camp heading into the summer with August just a couple flips of the calendar page away.
For that reason, Lobo head coach John King deemed the four-week spring practice slate a success.
“The big thing is that we accomplished what we set out to do,” King said. “We found out about our football team, the good and the bad.
“Now, it’s about sitting down and evaluating things throughout the summer. We have a lot of video to review on a lot of different players. We’ll know if we heed to make some depth chart changes, schematic changes and anything else we need to do to give our team the best chance to win. Spring practice was a success because we got a good evaluation of our team.”
It was rocky at times for the Lobos, who entered spring camp looking to replace a number of championship-level performances from a state title season in 2018 with championship-level expectations looming.
With four returning starters on each side of the ball and varying levels of playing experience peppered throughout the roster, King was pleased with how things somewhat leveled off in the end.
“We had a little more consistency from an offensive standpoint toward the end, which is what you expect to see,” King said. “The further you get into spring ball, one side tends to catch up in a way with the other.
“That was the scenario this spring with the defense leading the way. It’s been the opposite in years past and seems to go back-and-forth in that regard. There was a little more consistency on both sides of the ball but we’ve still got a lot of room to grow and improve. That’s what we have to focus on.”
Defensively, the Lobos hit the ground running this spring and did so quickly. With linebacker Tyshawn Taylor and defensive lineman Sawyer Goram-Welch at the epicenter of the more experienced defense leading the way, the Lobo defense set the tone.
“Great attitude, great practice effort and tremendous effort throughout the spring on defense,” King said. “One thing I will say about our defense is that they can run pretty well as a whole.
“There are 11 guys out there that can get to the football and they played well together, understood their assignments and took coaching well as we added to our package each week. They were able to grasp that each week and I think we’re in a good spot to hit the ground running in the fall.”
Goram-Welch, who showed his versatility up front defensively, is joined by Andrew Beltran, who is returning after an injury cut his junior season short, as well as newcomer Joe Jones on the line, one area where added depth will be a focus moving forward.
“We’ve got to find six guys that can put their hand in the dirt and hold a gap,” King said. “We’re going to have to change a few things from what we did last year because we are a different football team. There are always tweaks but as far as defeating a block, getting off a block and making a play, that’s never going to change.
“We’ve got to find a way to get those guys on the field and find a scheme that will enable to do those things.”
Depth-wise, the linebacker/down safety corps in the middle of the defense leads the way. Taylor, whose forced fumble on Dec. 22 set the stage for his senior campaign, is joined by juniors Laqualon Hale and Kybrien Jackson-Jamerson as well as senior Cedric Smith and Malik Cannon, a senior transfer from Jefferson.
“At inside and outside linebackers, I think we have decent depth there and great speed at those positions,” King said. “They are going to have to make plays. The two safeties at the hash mark, they did a good job of making adjustments and it falls on them for the most part to get things communicated and executed.”
Robert Pierce, who led with eight interceptions in 2018, is back at safety alongside converted running back Shannon Jackson, a junior. Dakirin Buchanan, who is a solid 6-1, 170-pound returner is back at cornerback, opposite Patrick Webb, who saw a number of first-team reps this spring.
“We’ve got to continue to add depth and be able to handle changes throughout the year to become a versatile unit,” King said of the biggest area of improvement needed moving forward.
Offensively, a new-look Lobo unit took the field and was built throughout the spring. It sputtered at times with the task of replacing four multi-year starters up front, injuries and new faces all around. The Green-White Game this past Monday was as crisp as the unit was all spring even off a script of designed plays in a scrimmage and avoid-more-injury format.
“We’re not the same team we were last year and we’re going going to have to find different ways, which is what happens and is not necessarily a negative,” King said. “There were bright spots and I saw improvement from guys that were working in the one huddle and guys that we had in the two huddle.
“There were guys where the light kind of came on in the scrimmage. They impressed me with the grasp of our offense and executing their assignments. A few of them put themselves in a good position to fight for a starting spot.”
Quarterback Haynes King was tasked with gelling with a new-look receiving corps, led by returning starter Kaden Kearbey, who had a 28-catch, 553-yard, five-touchdown junior season. King targeted four different receivers in the spring game, including Kyas Moore, Keith Halton and tight end Jhailon Braden.
In the backfield, rising junior Kaden Meredith (72 carries, 646 yards, 11 touchdowns as a sophomore) took the first team reps and battled for running room behind a new offensive line and the aforementioned speed of the Lobo defense. Fullback is an area of high competition. Kevin Jones, Jaharious Jones and Markevion Haynes, who is expected to be ready for fall practice after a left injury, are in the mix there.
JD Williams turned in an all-around spring on offense with time at tailback, slot receiver and backup quarterback.
“We used a few different formations and looks for a variety of reasons,” King said. “We had some injuries and depth concerns. Second, we wanted to be multiple and tag plays throughout the scrimmage and spring as a whole. We tried to be as multiple as we could be and look at a few different packages, some by design and some due to what we were facing.”
Up front, center Parker Cox is back as a three-year starter and has players with late-game experience around him. Joaquin Tovar, who took over at halftime of the state semifinal game and started the state title game, will be out with a leg injury.
On the end, Braden is joined at tight end by Austin Pencheon, Owen Kuenemann and Justin Beltran.
“We’ve got to continue to work on that consistency and that starts up front,” King said. “We’ve got to solidify that and improve.
“We have some jobs that are not decided and some are going to have to improve throughout the summer and into August to decide that. We’ve got to get better in that aspect.”
Now, the Lobos enter the summer, which King described a ‘crucial phase’ for the Lobos.
“It’s just as important as any other time we’ve had since the season ended,” he said. “If they take the summer off, they’re going to be behind when they show up and chances are they won’t be looking at much playing time.
The Lobos will begin a three-day workout plan beginning June 3 and will include a new ‘skill development’ session.
“Skill development, that’s new this year with team spots in the UIL,” King said. “Every sport has two hours a week with each athlete to work sport-specific drills.
“Our entire athletic department is in total agreement that the most important part of the summer is training. The skill development is an added bonus. If they don’t show up to train, we’re not going to go work skills with them. We’re going to work skills with the guys and girls that show up to train. That’s across the board in any sport.”
Longview will field two teams along with Pine Tree, Spring Hill, Hallsville, New Diana, Sabine and Alto in a summer 7-on-7 league beginning June 3. The Lobos do not have a Texas State 7-on-7 state qualifying tournament scheduled.
The league will take place on the grass practice fields (JV) and the grass soccer field (varsity) because Lobo Stadium is ‘getting a new look,’ King said.
During its May 20 meeting, the Longview ISD board of trustees approved Hellas Construction to replace the field turf and track at Lobo Stadium at a cost of $709,035, according to the district.
King said that construction will begin on May 29 and is expected to last 45 days at Lobo Stadium.
Fall practice begins Aug. 12.