With a solid nucleus of skill players returning in 2019, the biggest questions heading into the season for the Brownwood Lions offensively were how would a revamped line and transfer quarterback fare?
An offense is only as good as its line, and based off a 7-0 start and 37-point, 391-yard per game average, the answers clearly speak for themselves.
“I had high hopes,” Lions second-year head coach Sammy Burnett said of the offensive line. “I was really looking for that to be a strong suit for us. I think they've gelled but I don't think they've reached their full potential, but they're working toward it daily.”
Under the guidance of first-year offensive line coach Dex Dennard, the Lions began the season with a front five of Theo Bryant — the lone starter back at his position from last year — and Brandon Farrow — who also returned but was transitioning away from his former role as center — along with Jimi Brown, Brad Robinson and Ethan Pesina.
Farrow suffered a back injury earlier in the season but Tyler Tiner has filled the vacancy without the Lions missing a beat offensively. Jared Northcutt and Cutter Thompson have also stepped in at times throughout the season.
Through seven games, the Lions remain in single digits in pre-snap penalties, sacks allowed, and holding calls, along with just one turnover surrendered.
“I'm very pleased with how low the penalty count has been this year,” Burnett said. “We're not getting holding calls because we're using our feet better and getting in a better position to have a better base to create the technique we need for a block instead of us dragging our feet and having to hold on to somebody. The three or four pre-snap penalties we've had is just from a lack of focus, the defense flinching which causes us to flinch which is a lack of discipline because we know the snap count.”
The Lions are averaging 225 yards on the ground per game as Reece Rodgers (950 yards on 115 carries with 14 touchdowns) is knocking on the door of a 1,000-yard season, while quarterback Drew Huff (406 yards on 48 carries with seven touchdowns) has made the most of his chances on the ground as well.
“With those guys, they just need a little crease and we preach to our linemen to hang on long enough for them to get by,” Burnett said. “They're not busting assignments, they're trying to be physical and they're dominating at their position. We've had multiple games that we just wanted to run the clock out and I challenged them to get first downs and they've done that.”
Through the air, Huff and the Lions are completing 65 percent of their pass attempts for an average of 166 yards per game with nine touchdowns, no interceptions and less than a handful of sacks.
“We do a lot of blitz pick up work in practice and Drew's involved so he can get used to and feel the pressure coming and understand how to avoid it, but not just tuck the ball and run,” Burnett said. “He does a good job at keeping his eyes down the field so he can create something in the back end. And when he's had to avoid pressure and tuck it and run he's done a good job of that as well. He's done a lot of work in the pocket to feel comfortable.”
Huff, who arrived from Mineral Wells near the end of the previous school year, may be the most pleasant surprise on the roster in 2019. Many quarterbacks who spend their entire careers in the same program from the seventh grade up to the varsity level don't have the command of an offense the way Huff has displayed in this, his senior season.
“He's a great character kid and he's hungry, he wants to learn and he feels like he has an opportunity to be in a program that has a lot of history and a lot of winning to it,” Burnett said. “He believes in the coaches, he goes to meetings, he goes to film and brings his notepad and writes down everything the coaches tell him. He thirsts for knowledge and wants to be as good he can be and wants to play at the next level. He's matured as a quarterback even more than what we expected from what we saw of him in the past on film. That's a testament to his work ethic and his desire to be great.”
Though the Lions haven't been perfect offensively through seven games, they've proven more than capable of getting the job done. Still, Burnett sees plenty of room for improvement, especially with the closing stretch of games Brownwood faces.
“I'm excited about the opportunity to finish the district and see what we can do against three really strong defenses,” Burnett said. “I want us to be able to control what we do — the tempo, not get behind the sticks, move the ball on the ground, set up the play-action pass, run our RPOs and press the field vertically. We've been able to do it for the most part this year. We've had some times where we weren't clicking well and got behind the chains and been forced to punt. I want to fix that. If we get stopped by a defense that's one thing, but if we do something that stops ourselves from lack of execution or lack of focus I dang sure want to fix that. If we have to punt because there's a defense out there that's going to make us do it so be it, that's part of the game. But I can't accept mistakes on our end that cost us and lead to us punting.”