Steve Edwards Jr. and his GW staff have a lot of holes to fill for the coming season.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's no secret that George Washington has leaned on game-breaking running backs in recent seasons.The Patriots have lined up a 2,000-yard rusher in their backfield each of the last three years - two-time Kennedy Award winner Ryan Switzer the two previous seasons, and Felix Mollett in 2010.Not surprisingly, that production helped GW win 34 of its 39 games and advance deep into the Class AAA playoffs each time.But there's likely a changing of the guard in store for next season, as the Patriots attempt to rework their offense for another postseason run.GW lost three of its top four rushers from last season, returning only senior Jacob Jackson (5-foot-11, 170 pounds), who gained 340 yards on 41 carries and scored four touchdowns as a solid backup for Switzer, who ran for 2,379 yards and 32 TDs.Patriots coach Steve Edwards Jr., though, foresees Jackson's role as sort of a runner-receiver hybrid, much like fellow senior Austin Giacomo (6-1, 180)."Jackson can do a little bit of both,'' Edwards said Thursday as his team wound down its workouts in the three-week summer practice period."He'll have to wear a lot of hats. He's a very good athlete, capable of leading us. We have great expectations for him in the receiving spot, and he's also a very gifted defensive back. He's a quality tailback, and we're fortunate to have a guy like that who's good at all those things. He's worked really hard and waited his turn. I think he's capable of opening some eyes this year.''
Another option carrying the ball will be senior fullback Zach Malone (6-1, 210), who shined at linebacker last season, especially after all-stater Dustin Crouser was lost following the eighth game with a knee injury. Malone led GW with 141 total tackles."He'll step in and he'll get some more touches on offense,'' Edwards said. "He's a really good blocker and very talented himself. He's as good a linebacker as there is around this area that I'm aware of.''Directing the offense will be junior quarterback Jon Alexander, who played 15 games at South Charleston the past two years and was a 1,000-yard passer each season.After being pulled at halftime of a Sept. 21 game against Capital last year, Alexander left SC five games into the season to attend Hargrave Military Academy (Va.), but has since returned to the Kanawha Valley.With the Black Eagles, Alexander hit on 153 of 280 passes for 2,069 yards and 21 touchdowns with 19 interceptions. He also ran for 523 yards and six scores.
"He's done a great job of jelling with the team,'' Edwards said. "He's very smart, talented, a joy to be around. He's very excited about the opportunity he has. We expect him to be a big part of our offensive success.''Alexander's presence under center and Switzer's departure dictate a fresh start for GW's offense. Another potential noteworthy change for the Patriots' attack, however, seems to have dissipated.
Former Nitro and WVU Tech coach Scott Tinsley, who according to published reports was serving as an assistant coach for GW during some of its early work in the three-week practice period, is currently not a part of Edwards' staff.Tinsley has long been considered one of the state's top offensive minds, and tutored a pair of Kennedy Award winners in quarterback J.R. House and running back Josh Culbertson.Edwards did not want to comment on the situation, and GW principal George Aulenbacher did not return calls from the Gazette.In recent years, the Patriots have immersed themselves in 7-on-7 drills during the three-week out-of-season practice period, and this year was no exception. GW participated in five such workouts - two in Huntington and one each in Morgantown, Point Pleasant and Concord University.Edwards said those pass-heavy drills can help identify some new possibilities at the skill positions as the Patriots seek to replace their starting quarterback (Trevor Bell), tailback (Switzer), fullback (Crouser) and top three receivers."We lost a lot of guys and we lost a lot of experience,'' Edwards said. "We kept our competitive edge [this summer] by competing as much as we could, and we've done pretty well. I'm pleased with the progress we're making with the club. I'm pleased we're getting great effort. They're eager to learn and they know they have big shoes to fill. Right now they're answering the call, but we don't have anybody going 11 on 11 yet.
"The thing about it is that we're doing it a little bit different these three weeks because of the lack of two-a-days that we're going to miss [in August]. We won't have that extra time to use.''Kanawha County students report to classes on Aug. 9, four days after practice opens, which cuts out about a week of extended workouts that teams had utilized in the past. Teachers report full time on Aug. 6."It's a strain on you,'' Edwards said, "[so] we're trying to take advantage of more opportunities to put things in. It makes you think about it a little more, and do what you have to do. We'll do the best we can. It's always a challenge, and we'll have to adapt.''Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.