Rams still searching for starting quarterback

Strasburg High School's offense runs a play during a drill at a recent practice. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Strasburg High School opens its 2015 football season at Stonewall Jackson High School next Friday but the Rams still don’t know who their quarterback will be.

Juniors Ethan Duckworth and Ryan Bowers entered fall practice in competition for the starting spot after the graduation of two-year starter Mark Smoot but, prior to the Rams’ scrimmage against East Hardy on Friday, neither had shown enough to allow head coach Mark Roller to name a starter.

“We don’t have that true identity and that’s what we’re trying to get with those two,” Roller said Thursday. “… They have no varsity experience there but we’re just trying get them to come along, but they need to come along a little bit faster than what they are because we’re getting ready to play here in (one week). It’s not the fact that they can’t grasp the offense. There’s some other things there that as a quarterback you’ve got to be able to understand and they’re struggling with that right now.”

Roller said earlier this week that Duckworth had a “slight edge” over Bowers due to his experience at the position (Bowers was talked into playing quarterback last season, Roller said). The head coach added that Bowers, also a pitcher for Strasburg’s varsity baseball team, has a “live arm” but hasn’t “grasped the concept of reading coverage.”

Roller said Thursday he wouldn’t rule out sticking junior Adam Miller, who is expected to share carries at running back this fall, into the quarterback mix.

“Until one kind of shines over the other we’re still kind of at a toss-up right now,” Roller said Monday. “Our next scrimmage, that should help us make a decision. And if not then we’ll kind of give it that first week with Stonewall, kind of give them some equal time and see who’s going to come out shining.”

Switching it up: The Rams’ defense will have a different look this season, as the coaching staff has tossed out its traditional 4-4 scheme in favor of the 5-3.

Roller said defensive coordinator Tripp Lamb did research in the offseason – which included discussions with legendary Rams coach Glenn Proctor, who last used a five-man defensive line at Strasburg – and determined that the new scheme would be “more beneficial” to Strasburg’s current players and the best way to take advantage of Rams’ depth along the defensive line.

Strasburg toyed with variations of a five-man defensive line last season but senior linebacker Justin Carr said the full-time switch has created some challenges, particularly when he and fellow linebacker Josh Pritchett tried to get the defensive linemen in proper position pre-snap early in fall camp.

“It was something completely new because I’ve been running the 4-4 since eighth grade,” Carr said, “and just the last year to get thrown into the 5-3 is a little different at first but it really helps out a lot. When you have five down linemen, at least two of your backers are going to be unblocked every time. So that’s really good for guys like me and Josh who just like to fly around and hit people. That’s our specialty.”

Carr said the 5-3 also offers the Rams more versatility.

“We can switch out. We have different personnel. You run the (defensive) ends, you can pop them out, bring them back in. And you just have different athletes – Dylan Campbell and people like that, and Tyler Brill we brought back out again. Someone like that, they can run three different positions,” Carr said.

Wearing many hats: Pritchett, also the Rams’ two-year starter at center, figures to continue to see playing time in that same position this fall, although that may not be the only place he lines up on offense.

Roller said Pritchett could see time at fullback this season, provided the Rams can find a suitable replacement for the junior at center.

“We have some other guys working there at center and if they can get the job done then we’ll certainly move Josh back into the backfield,” Roller said Monday. “He’s such a versatile player that we can move him around different places and that’s the good thing about him.”

Pritchett likely will also handle the punting duties this fall, Roller said, and the 5-foot-9, 215-pound junior even lined up as a slot receiver several times during 11-on-11 drills in Thursday’s practice and hauled in a pass on a slant route over the middle.

“I’ve got hands and I’m pretty big but I’m not quite positive if I’m going to go out for passes yet,” Pritchett said. “I’m willing to go wherever they put me.”

‘Jay Strong’: Strasburg will be without defensive lineman Jay Gomez this season after the senior suffered a broken back following a 75-foot fall from a cliff into a water-filled quarry on June 29, but Gomez is still making an impact for the Rams.

Following successful surgery on a thoracic compression fracture shortly after the incident, Gomez is now walking on his own, Carr said, and makes almost daily appearances at Strasburg’s practices. Carr said Gomez is constantly pushing his teammates through drills and conditioning, providing an inspirational boost for the Rams.

“He wants to be on this team more than anybody,” said Carr, who, along with fellow football teammates Dylan Campbell and Christian Neff, was with Gomez when the accident occurred.

“We’re a big family here. That has a lot to do with it. You just have someone who’s hurt like that but is still here. … It helps a lot to see him out here and (showing) commitment even though he’s not playing. Every day he’s here. When he doesn’t have physical therapy he’s here and I think that means a lot to the team that he’s in it for us and not for himself.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com