Campbell makes early assessments on 'Dogs

By Jamie Combs
SPORTS EDITOR
jcombs@starhq.com

  Except for the Bulldogs reducing contact to a bare minimum, the agenda for this year's Hampton spring football drills was like Otis Campbell's weekend visits to the Mayberry County Jail: Nothing out of the ordinary.
  For the most part, keeping things simple is the Bulldog way during the two-week May ritual.
  "We had a lot of boys out of baseball come in the next day," said Bulldog coach J.C. Campbell. "We just went out in shoulder pads and head gear and shorts. We worked on some stuff -- we didn't worry about hitting. We mostly worked on stuff like fundamentals. We think we got quite a bit done."
  As usual, Campbell and his coaching staff took the opportunity to get a feel for what kind of material they have, and to start building early ideas of how to use it.
  With numerous first-string positions up for grabs, the team exhibited a respectable amount of ambition.
  "I saw some eager beavers," said the veteran coach, his team coming off a 5-5 campaign. "Not enough, but I saw some people who acted like they want to play a little bit."
  For the first time in three years, the 'Dogs are faced with installing a new signal-caller as Mitchell Morton has taken his 2,009 career passing yards and graduated. Unlike 2001, when Morton was the clear-cut choice to grab the reins at quarterback, there's quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding the position.
  Three players -- senior Zack Crabtree and juniors Brandon Barnett and Lucas Roark -- made early auditions for the starting QB job.
  When it comes to running, passing and executing the option, Crabtree can do a little of each. Executing the option and throwing appear to be Barnett's strong suits, while Roark, although not a strong running or option threat, is capable as a pure pocket passer.
  "It's up in the air," said Campbell about the position. "Crabtree looked pretty good in the spring, but he hurt his knee again and had to miss two or three days. That set him back a little bit. We're kind of looking at all of them."
  Graduation took its greatest toll on the offensive and defensive lines, leaving Seth Clawson and Johnny Price as the only returning regulars. Clawson, a senior, was the starting center last year, when Price, a tackle, gained first-team experience on both lines as a sophomore.
  A weight-room fixture during the off-season, Clawson showed up for spring drills quite a bit stronger than last fall, and Price, according to Campbell, "looked awfully good out there this spring."
  "Seth has to be our leader up there," Campbell said, "and Johnny Price looks like he's going to be a pretty good player. We've just got to find three or four people to go with them.
  "With our line, there's not much depth at all."
  That lack of depth may open the door for freshman Steven Roop, a 6-6 1/2, 364-pound behemoth, to garner a starting role up front. Roop would perhaps be good enough to challenge for a first-team role under fairly prosperous circumstances.
  "Roop might play," Campbell said. "Three hundred and sixty four pounds -- that's a load. And he's got good technique."
  Spring practice came to an end with Campbell feeling good about his situation at tailback, which includes the three players -- seniors Jacob Moss, Cody Walsh and Crabtree (if he doesn't play at QB) -- who handled the job by committee a year ago, when each had his good moments. Cody Farmer, another senior, is very much in the picture.
  "We've got some boys who can run fast," Campbell said. "There are a lot of things we can do with them. If we can block for them, we're capable of moving the ball. We might even be able to break one or two."
  Walsh is another key player who has made his mark in the weight room since the end of the '03 campaign.
  Also during spring drills, Hampton displayed signs of being a better receiving team than last season, in which dropped passes bogged down the offense too many times.
  "Several caught the ball pretty good -- Moss, (Gene) Sanchez and (Chris) Morgan, boys we had last year," Campbell said. "We improved a little on that."
  All in all, it wasn't a half-bad spring for the 'Dogs. Only eight weeks from now, Hampton will be back on the practice field trying to take the necessary steps to produce a winning team.