By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Skyline senior Gerren Butler figures to make a bigger impact in the Hawks' offense this season.
Butler, who worked primarily from the fullback position during the first half of last year before making the switch to tight end, will play exclusively at tight end when the Skyline offense is on the field this fall.
Standing at 6-foot-3 and weighing 265 pounds, Butler presents a big receiving target for junior quarterback Corban Ruch, and his size should prove invaluable as a blocking tight end in the Hawks' run-heavy multiple-I offense.
"On the field he's a devastating blocker," Skyline head coach Heath Gilbert said after practice on Wednesday evening. "You split him out and we put him in a stack position and one of those corners are supposed to come through him and make a play on one of our skinnies behind him, that's a tough deal for any of those guys out there. And he can run. He's one of the fastest guys on our team at 260 pounds. He definitely has the physical tools to be a special football player."
Butler, who will also be moving from linebacker to defensive end on defense as well as handle the punting duties, said the transition to tight end hasn't been too difficult, although it has been challenging for him to memorize his routes, particularly when Skyline increases the tempo.
"Mostly when we do hurry-up and we just go out there and keep running route after route after route I've just got to remember which route goes with which play. Sometimes I get a little confused, but in the end I still get it," said Butler, who carried the ball 21 times for 165 yards and two touchdowns last season.
Gilbert praised Butler's work this offseason, saying that the senior didn't miss a single team event over the summer. Butler said he's worked on becoming a better receiver, but the major emphasis has been on becoming a better blocker from the line of scrimmage.
"I focused a lot on passing, but I focused more on blocking because I know I'm going to be inside a lot. It's just about blocking because we're more of a run-based team," Butler said. "Me being an inside tight end is more important than me being a wideout."
ROUND TWO: Ruch returns as the quarterback for the Hawks after having a full year to get acclimated with Skyline's multiple-I offense, which utilizes an intricate system of misdirection and read plays.
Ruch, who transferred to Skyline from Seymour High School in Indiana prior to his sophomore season last year, has had a sturdier grasp of the Hawks' playbook this season. That has allowed Ruch and the rest of Skyline's offense focus on fine-tuning some things, such as the mesh points during handoffs between Ruch and the Hawks' running backs.
"It's definitely been a lot better," Ruch said of his knowledge of the Hawks' offense in year two. "[Senior running back] Jerrius [Baltimore] has been awesome staying and working hard after practice, working on getting those meshes down. And all the running backs are doing a great job of getting the mesh so that we can move faster with the plays."
Ruch should also benefit from having plenty of returning experience around him. Skyline's offensive line remains largely intact aside from the loss of all-conference lineman Travis Siever, and the Hawks figure to have plenty of weapons in Baltimore, Butler and receivers Jamal Parker, James Roy, Josh Smeltzer, Aaron Tasker and others.
"I'm not saying we didn't have all the threats possible out there last year, but this year we have threats plus guys behind them that if we put somewhere on the field they're capable of making plays," Gilbert said. "There's more toys to play with and it's going to come down to how hard these guys want to work."
GOOD FIRST IMPRESSION: Skyline completed its first preseason scrimmage on Aug. 15 against Dominion, and Gilbert was encouraged by what he saw from the Hawks in their first game action of the 2014 season.
Gilbert said the Hawks scored six times in the scrimmage while surrendering just two scoring plays to Dominion, an improvement from when the two schools met in a scrimmage last year.
"And there were so many mistakes that we made, so to see that we were still able to be effective making mistakes was encouraging because there's a lot of stuff that we can improve on, and that's what we're trying to do is do our best right now, work real hard to clean up some of those mistakes," Gilbert said.
Gilbert said he was particularly impressed with the play of Baltimore -- who scored three times during the scrimmage -- and senior offensive linemen Joe Pingley and Ronnie Clifton.
Skyline, which also held a scrimmage on Thursday against John Champe, opens the 2014 regular season on the road against cross-town rival Warren County next Friday.
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org