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ROAD TO KICKOFF: Developing OL crucial to Jonesboro's success

Photo by Brian Paglia
Jonesboro linebacker Quentin Edwards (No. 5), wide receiver/cornerback Cameron Sutton (No. 7) and wide receiver/cornerback Taurean Ferguson (No. 12) are expected to play a large role for the Cardinals this season. Sutton has committed to play for Tennessee and Ferguson has committed to Vanderbilt. Edwards has offers from Western Carolina and Tennessee-Chattanooga.

Photo by Brian Paglia Jonesboro linebacker Quentin Edwards (No. 5), wide receiver/cornerback Cameron Sutton (No. 7) and wide receiver/cornerback Taurean Ferguson (No. 12) are expected to play a large role for the Cardinals this season. Sutton has committed to play for Tennessee and Ferguson has committed to Vanderbilt. Edwards has offers from Western Carolina and Tennessee-Chattanooga.

Jonesboro at a glance

Last year: 9-2

Summer progress: Junior quarterback Mario Atkinson took advantage of a heavy dosage of 7-on-7 passing league competition to build a relationship with his wide receivers and other offensive skill players. Cardinals coach Tim Floyd said the uptick in 7-on-7 work was intentional and has helped his offense to jell.

Work to do: The brunt of the remaining work is in the trenches — especially offensively. Three starters from last year’s offensive line are gone. Depth on the defensive line is questionable as many players will be playing both sides. With a plethora of offensive skill position talent, the offensive line’s ability to protect Atkinson and open up holes for Petty will be the difference between a good offense and an explosive one.

Emerging player: Patrick Petty. He’s certainly no stranger to the most ardent Jonesboro football fan, but after an injury-shortened 2011 season where he rushed for 185 yards on 32 carries with three touchdowns, Floyd believes Petty is poised to raise some eyebrows on both offense and defense, and Petty is ready to prove his coach right. “I’m trying to turn heads this year,” Petty said. “I’m trying to make plays.”

There are certain things about the 2011 football season that don’t even cross Patrick Petty’s mind — like the broken collarbone he suffered against North Clayton.

So what is on the senior tailback/safety’s mind these days as the new season is just two weeks away?

“Week 3 against Griffin,” he said. “I feel real good and confident about us going there to win that game. We’re going to come out with a lot of fire.”

Even coach Tim Floyd couldn’t deny that the Bears were a team of interest this year.

“Griffin definitely stood out when we saw this season’s schedule,” Floyd said.

ROAD TO KICKOFF

The Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald are counting down the days until our high school football special section comes out on August 24 by taking a look at all 22 area high school football teams.

That’s probably because it was that same Griffin team that ended the Cardinals season — prematurely in their minds — by narrowly knocking Jonesboro out of the playoffs in a 47-43 defeat that left a bitter taste in the mouths of its returning seniors especially.

So much so, that Petty said the expectations around the program have raised during fall camp, and Joneboro’s leaders aren’t willing to settle for anything other than excellence.

“We’re coming a long good right now, but we can be doing much better,” Petty said. “Some of the players think we’re already good, but we’re going to work to get that out of their minds.”

Not that Floyd minds a little confidence. The fourth year head coach has seen his battle-tested senior class grow from a tough, 2-8 mark in his first season to last year’s 9-2 campaign.

He just knows that the line between good and great is a thin one for Jonesboro — resting on the shoulders of some of his biggest bodies.

With four starters returning on offense — including a healthy Petty and multi-talented receivers Taurean Ferguson and Cameron Sutton — and junior quarterback Mario Atkinson looking the part as heir apparent to last year’s starter Cedric Nettles, Floyd isn’t losing any sleep about his skill players. Ferguson, also a standout track athlete, has committed to playing football at Vanderbilt while Sutton has committed to Tennessee.

“I would be willing to walk up and play against anybody in the state with those guys,” he said.

If there is a concern, it’s the development of the guys in the trenches.

Losing three starters from last year’s unit and several from the defensive line has caused Floyd and his coaching staff to work overtime to find viable replacements from untested sources.

“We’ve got a lot of bodies out there but they’re very young,” Floyd said. “A lot of these guys haven’t played varsity before and they’re just starting to learn how to play at this level. Learning schemes, blocking techniques and picking up blitzes. If we can work on getting them better we will be fine.”

One of those bodies is 6-foot-3, 210-pound defensive end Isaiah Seisey. Floyd said Seisey recorded “seven or eight sacks” in 2011 and was in line to play some tight end this year, but will likely see more playing time on both offensive and defensive lines.

The secondary is loaded with Sutton and Diamante Shannon anchoring the corner spots while Ferguson and Petty will patrol the defensive backfield.

Floyd said the Cardinals are even deeper in the secondary, thanks to the added services of Mundy’s Mill transfer Keith Kent, who should see time at corner.

As for Atkinson, a summer of 7-on-7 passing league success has helped boost his confidence. And with Ferguson, Sutton and Petty playing on offense as well, Atkinson should have plenty of weapons at his disposal.

And as a bonus, Floyd said his quarterback is settling into his role as not only a game manager but a leader also.

“I saw especially later on in the summer how his confidence has just grown,” Floyd said. “You saw it when he started lining up people in the right positions, correcting routes and telling receivers where to go the next time out.”

With the gist of the offensive scheme under his belt, Atkinson said his further improvement is just a matter of fine-tuning.

“Timing,” Atkinson said. “It’s all about timing. We’re just working hard on getting our timing down now.”

The schedule is minus state runner-up Lovejoy -- the only other team Jonesboro lost to last year. But tough tests against region foes North Clayton and Riverdale after the Griffin rematch should make for a compelling playoff chase.

And of course, rival Mt. Zion will be awaiting the Cardinals in the season’s first game. Jonesboro routed the Bulldogs last year, 39-0, but with new Bulldog coach Ervin Starr ushering in a different attitude, Floyd said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Bulldogs proved to be among Jonesboro’s toughest opponents.

“I’m always concerned with Mt. Zion,” Floyd said. “They’ve got good athletes and good coaching. Whenever you play that school around the corner, it doesn’t really matter how good our team is or how good their team is when we play each other.”