By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Defense is the key to winning any championship.
Millington Trojans Defensive Coordinator Bailey Waits and Head Coach Chris Michael are veterans at figuring out schemes to neutralize some of the best offenses in West Tennessee.
Entering the 2015 TSSAA football season, the duo have the challenge of navigating a new district featuring Memphis powers Ridgeway, East, Craigmont and Kingsbury. Adding to the task, the Trojan coaching staff has to replace several key graduates including All-State linebacker Patrick Macon.
“You don’t replace Patrick Macon,” Michael said. “But you try to bring along the next guy and get him ready to go. We’ve got a bunch of guys there in that linebacking group. Really only one in that linebacking group spent time last season returning.
“Everybody else is new either being young or being other players that we moved into that position,” he added. “It’s still a work in progress. We’ve got to make sure that we’re sound in front of them with our tackles.”
Macon was the heart of the 2014 Trojan defense leading the team in tackles for loss and seeming to make the big plays to stop the opposing team’s offensive unit. Macon was accompanied by peers Claude Johnson, Angelo Pirtle, Deadrick Payton and Dante Pitts as key parts of last year’s defensive front.
This summer the Trojans are grooming the next batch like Nick Fenney, Sam Stanifer, Dedricz Perry, Trevor Lamar, Jonathan Clements and Paul Robinson to be the standouts.
“Our front four, we’re trying to build depth there,” Michael said. “The whole front six is a work in progress. We’ve seen signs of improvement on a daily basis. Every now and then, we get a glimpse of another kid who can help us. Hopefully by the time we get to Week 1, we’ll have a set rotation. Because it’s going to be by committee in that front six.”
Like Macon last season, Michael is expecting Clements to be the playmaker for the 2015 defensive unit. With his height, large windspan and speed on the edge, Clements can quickly penetrate the opposing backfield to make plays.
Michael said a speed rush will be one of the weapons the Trojans will need in 2015 with their new schedule.
“When you look at our schedule, there has been somewhat of a shift as we look at the 10 teams on our schedule,” Michael noted. “In years past, everything was Spread oriented — four receivers here, sometimes five receivers. It was very, very rare you had two backs in the backfield. That all has shifted.
“We’re in a new district with a new schedule,” he added. “Probably 80 percent of our schedule is two-backs and one tight end. We’re going to see a lot of that.”
The Trojans return to a district featuring the familiar game plan of Craigmont Head Coach Cecil VanHooks. Almost a decade ago, Millington vs. Ridgeway was a must see game in the area. The Kingsbury rivalry came to left in recent years and the East Mustangs are no strangers to the Trojans.
“You have the prospection that Memphis is all speed and spread it out to throw it all over the field,” Michael said. “But when you look at Ridgeway, they’re going to be 300 pounds across the front. They’re going to have a fullback and a tailback. They’re going to be sitting in the I (formation) and going to run the ball downhill at you.
“East is going to do the exact same thing with two in the backfield and running downhill,” he continued. “Coach VanHooks over there is probably going to be in the Shotgun. But he’s going to have two running backs back there and running off tackle. These guys are run-oriented teams.”
Two Tipton County teams will also be on the Trojans’ schedule. Rivals Munford used a power running attack under JR Kirby to post a 7-3 record in 2014. Covington is known for the Wing-T formation racking up victories.
Millington will take on Kirby with a new coach and the Trojans will get a chance to take on the Spread formation against Collierville and Hernando.
In stopping those Spread attacks, Michael said Millington depend on an experience defensive backfield. The Trojans secondary will feature Kameron Middleton, Greg Smith, D’Monte Kemp and Patrick’s little brother Princeton.
“We have to prepare to stop the run this year,” Michael said. “And speed is important in that area of the game too. But you have to be physical and prepared to stop the run.
“The back half of our defense is where we have more experience,” he concluded. “We’re probably most sounded with our safeties and corners. We’ve got the most depth there and experience.”
Go to: Millington-News.com