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FDA adopts new defensive scheme

Summer has come and gone for the Fort Dale Academy Eagles, and so too has a long-utilized defensive scheme.

Fort Dale head football coach James “Speed” Sampley, who is entering his 19th year with the Eagles, said that he’s run the same defensive scheme at Fort Dale for as long as he can remember.  But 2017 marks the start of a new chapter in the Eagles defense.

“We’ve run a pressure package 3-5 defense for so long, where everything is predicated on blitz packages,” Sampley said.

“We’re changing to a read-and-react style defense.  We’re going to try to read the whole thing: front line, linebackers and secondary all straight-up reading and reacting to what they see.  It’s been a complicated change, but so far in practice it looks pretty good.”

The reason for the change is similar to the reasoning of several other Butler County coaches who’ve made changes in their respective offenses or defenses—the system just fits the personnel better.

“We do not have any experience at middle linebacker,” Sampley said.  “And so we’re going to take Dakota Berrey and put him at mike linebacker because he’s the most physical player we have, but he’s never played middle linebacker.  And we’re going to try to keep defensive linemen off him by playing read and letting him run to the football.

“We’ve got two returning outside linebackers who played last year in Luke Taylor and Zack Kendrick, and they’ll make lots of plays because they’re comfortable out there in the 4-3 scheme.  We have more defensive backs skill-wise than we have anything else, so playing four instead of three is one of those things I just felt like we needed to do.”

Though Sampley is pleased with progress in practice, he insists that it doesn’t mean nearly as much until the Eagles can put theory into practice in a game situation.

Fortunately, Fort Dale will get just that this Friday in a tag-team jamboree Friday.

FDA will team up with Macon East to face Lowndes Academy and Clarke Preparatory School.

Essentially, if Macon East is the team’s offense in the first quarter, then FDA would be the team’s defense, and vice-versa.  The teams will switch each quarter.

Sampley has expressed some concern with the format because it means limiting playing  time for all teams involved.  If a normal game sees 60 snaps of offense and defense for a team, then Sampley expects maybe half of that Friday for his Eagles.

Still, he’ll take any valuable game experience he can get with just weeks remaining before the start of the fall season.

“You can talk about running and you can do all the running you want to—I don’t care whether its at the pro level, even,” Sampley said. “It’s not the same as being in game shape.  You have to actually play football to get in playing-football shape.

“And so we will enter game one without knowing whether we can play a whole game.  It’s hard to tell.”

The Eagles have the benefit of experience on their side this season, however.  Despite a smaller-than-average player count—the varsity roster lists 30 players—half of them are seniors.

Some seniors, such as starting quarterback Luke Taylor, have three years of experience as a starter.  Others will be starting for the very first time.

Sampley says that any experience is valuable experience, but the key to success in 2017 would be predicated upon one thing—staying injury-free.

“The biggest thing for us, and for any team, for that matter, is that we’ll have to stay healthy,” he said.

“If we can stay healthy, we’ll be pretty decent.  If we get anybody hurt, we’re going to struggle.”