Bulldogs appear well-fortified on both sides of line

By Jamie Combs
Sports Editor
jcombs@starhq.com

   Football teams with inferior line play are like concert pianists with broken fingers -- severely handicapped.
   Finding anything inferior about the offensive and defensive lines for the 2003 Hampton Bulldogs could prove to be a difficult task. The down linemen (tackle to tackle), led by the senior trio of Adam Potter, Brandon Bowling and Eddie Lance, look particularly strong and represent much of the glue that should hold the team together.
   "From tackle to tackle this could be one of the best lines we've ever had, on both sides of the ball," said Hampton assistant coach Tim Andrews, who works extensively with the line. "The middle is stout.
   "Of course, you never know about kids. They could come out and be one of the worst lines we've ever had, but I'm not thinking that. They've got a good work ethic. They worked all winter long in the weight room, they've got a good attitude about it -- 90 percent of it is attitude -- and they're good leaders."
   Coming off a season in which he started both ways as a tackle, ranked second on the team in quarterback sacks (5.5) and tied for third in tackles (74), Potter is the top returning lineman for the 'Dogs.
   He believes he can eclipse his achievements of a year ago.
   "I think I can do more this year," said Potter, now a guard on offense. "I'm feeling better about myself this year. I've got more confidence."
   Bowling didn't play football his sophomore season, but returned in 2002 to deliver impressive results on the offensive front as a first-team tackle.
   The 'Dogs will depend on Bowling for a repeat performance, and then some. A starting job as a defensive tackle, where he played sparingly a year ago, has been added to his workload.
   "If everybody tries real hard and puts a lot of effort into it, we'll be able to do pretty well," said Bowling when asked how the 'Dogs would fare in the trenches.
   Lance finished the 2002 regular season as one of the team's starting guards, but a knee injury that occurred during practice sidelined him for the team's playoff game against Wartburg Central and required offseason surgery.
   This year, Lance returns to the role of a first-team guard and will also start at nose tackle. Andrews doesn't expect him to have any difficulty bouncing back from his injury.
   "He's gone through rehab, and he's quicker now than he was before he got hurt," said Andrews.
   Lance, who is glad to be back in good physical condition, doesn't see a reason to be pessimistic about the tackle-to-tackle outlook.
   "We're big," said Lance. "I think we're going to do all right. We just need one or two to come in and help us when we get tired."
   When Lance, a 245-pound player, said the 'Dogs are "big," on the down line, he wasn't off-base. Bowling tips the scales at 320, while Potter weighs in at 280. The other tackle-to-tackle starters, Johnny Price (offensive tackle) and Seth Clawson (center), weigh in at 280 and 215, respectively.
   Additional size appears in the form of Travis Mizzell (220) and Donny Davis (280), players that provide two-way depth. Price is a defensive backup.
   "We've got a little bit of depth," Andrews said. "Last year we had a pretty good line. We could get ahead, play some (substitutes) and get them a little experience."
   Clawson, a junior, made progress in a reserve role last season and could turn out to be a stud at his center position.
   Price, who's only a sophomore, is labeled as a player loaded with potential.
   "We could have one of the best sophomores, in Johnny Price, that we've ever had," Andrews said. "He just has to work on his foot work a little bit."
   Potter's move to guard, which puts him shoulder-to-shoulder with Bowling on the right side of the offensive line, adds a promising twist to the Bulldog scheme.
   "That's 320 and 280 side-by-side," Andrews said. "That's a load."
   Considering the fact the 'Dogs lost their starting tailback, Michael Peterson (1,134 yards rushing), and fullback, Jimmy Sarrett (357), from a year ago, Bowling feels like it's important for the blocking to be totally sound, which would give the new runners ample time to find their footing.
   "I think it's real important," Bowling said. "As long as our line blocks well, I think the backs will do well if they try their best."
   Hampton will also have untested starters at the linebacking positions when its season gets underway.
   "I'm thinking that our line will make more tackles this year than last year, and that would probably take part of the pressure off of the linebackers," said Hampton coach J.C. Campbell.
   With the return of senior Donny Singleton, who improved as much as any Bulldog player during the course of the 2002 season, the team is halfway set at the defensive end spots. Coming up with a complement to Singleton appears to be the only unresolved issue on the Hampton lines, where the 'Dogs hope to showcase aggressive play.
   "We're going to try to be physical," said Lance.
   High expectations are now waiting to be met.
   "We should have a good year on the line," said Potter. "I think we can set the tone for this team."
   NOTEBOOK
   * The Bulldogs put in two days of scrimmage work this past week, taking on Johnson County on Tuesday in Mountain City, then battling West Greene and Unicoi County on Friday in Mosheim.
   Hampton coach J.C. Campbell drew at least some satisfaction from the Johnson County scrimmage, saying: "We didn't do very well early, but after we got settled down and kind of figured out what was going on, we played a little more aggressively.
   "When we went to down-and-distance, I don't think we lost the ball a time. On that 10-play stuff, we didn't do very well. It takes us more than 10 to score."
   Campbell found Friday's action to be quite distasteful.
   "We couldn't move the ball, we couldn't tackle anybody -- we were awful," he said. "I don't know if it was because it was hot or something else -- I don't have any idea -- but we weren't very good.
   "We didn't play nearly as well as we did up at Mountain City."
   * The 'Dogs received a bit of a scare in Mountain City when starting quarterback Mitchell Morton went down with an ankle injury.
   "The coach from Mountain City thought (Morton) had twisted his knee, the way he went down, but it was just his ankle," said Campbell.
   Morton has been out of commission since the injury, but is expected to return to practice on Monday.
   * Against the Longhorns, Hampton's cloudy situation at the linebacker positions started to reveal a little blue sky, with Seth Clawson and Sean Moody taking steps towards winning the starting jobs.
   "Seth played awfully well," Campbell said, "and Sean Moody played pretty well. They didn't do a bad job at all."
   * Perhaps the only positive that came from the West Greene/Unicoi scrimmage was the play of Zack Crabtree at quarterback.
   Although he didn't necessarily end a tight, three-way battle -- with Lucas Roark and Brandon Barnett -- for the No. 2 QB job, Crabtree heads into the final week of preseason practice as Morton's backup.
   "He's No. 2 as of yesterday (Friday)," Campbell said.