July 13, 2014

Something for everyone

Tournament stretches skills for RBs, LBs

High school football coaches — and likely most spectators — can easily list the benefits of seven-on-seven football for quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive backs.

Often overlooked are the running backs and linebackers — but they also get the same route-running and route-recognition experience as other positions.

With the Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship, hosted by The Daily Citizen and sponsored by Astroturf, in Dalton for a fourth summer, teams from across the country converged for a 32-team tournament starting Saturday at four different locations. The pass-only format highlights the speedy wide receivers and their just-as-quick counterparts in the secondary, but the running backs and linebackers help fill out the “seven” in seven-on-seven.

Seven-on-seven competition is a modified version of football in which only passing is allowed and there are no offensive or defensive lines. Because there’s no tackling — players wear helmets but no other pads — a play ends when a ball carrier is touched with at least one hand below the neck by an opposing player.

Coaches mention chemistry and timing between a quarterback and his wide receivers as a main positive of these tournaments. Another is putting pressure on the cornerbacks and safeties to make plays against a slew of crossing opponents.

For the running backs — developed through middle school and the first few years of high school as ball carriers first, blockers second and pass catchers third — this is the best chance to develop as a reliable option in a team’s passing game.

“It can be a very good thing for them during passing camps,” Northwest Whitfield coach Josh Robinson said. “You know, running backs haven’t caught the ball a whole lot, so this is a chance to improve. We’re not really complicated in how we use running backs in our passing game, but in the ways we do use them, they need to be effective.”

Coahulla Creek’s Josue Domin-guez, a rising junior, plays running back and free safety.

“Me playing fullback, I don’t run many routes,” he said. “... This does help.”

For the linebackers, it’s a little different. Coaches want a little more self control to avoid a potential bad habit for the fall, when the running game is very much a factor.

“I think, in a way, this hurts linebackers,” Dalton coach Matt Land said. “We’re constantly reminding them that we’re run-read first.

“I’m listening to my coaches tell our linebackers to take a step forward once the ball is snapped.”

Players have ways to keep themselves from letting the seven-on-seven format become a habit.

“Sometimes you need to slow it down and think about it,” said Dalton outside linebacker Nate Mays, a rising senior. “You can’t just play run when you know it isn’t a run, but you just can’t let it get to you.”

Christian Heritage coach Preston Poag said some teams don’t even use actual linebackers in the linebacker positions during seven-on-seven play. They’ll use cornerbacks and safeties to avoid linebackers garnering the pass-first mentality on defense.

“We still want them out there,” he said. “They need to recognize when players are coming across the middle, when they curl in front and stuff. A lot of times the biggest mismatch that teams try to get is a linebacker covering a running back, so this gives them practice with that.”

All coaches talked to agree with Poag and use linebackers in seven-on-seven play because there are benefits.

“We play with who we’re going to play with,” Cartersville coach Joey King said. “You try and tell them, ‘Once you see pass, then you drop back,’ but we know they’re dropping back right away. So we try and treat it like a two-minute situation when teams have to pass the ball.”

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