New wide receivers filling big shoes in Newnan's offense
by Doug Gorman
When Newnan quarterback Bailey Bryant landed a starting role last year for the Cougars, he had two talented veteran wide receivers in Traon Moss and Tray Matthews to help ease his growing pains.
They quickly turned into his favorite targets en route to a 9-3 state playoff season.
Trouble is, they are no longer an option for the Cougars' second- year quarterback. Both have moved on to the college ranks, leaving some big shoes to fill heading into this fall.
Despite the losses to graduation and a 1-2 start through a demanding early-season schedule, Newnan's offense appears to be thriving, scoring 91 points over its first three games.
New faces has stepped in at wide receiver for head coach Mike McDonald's team, giving Bryant several options when it comes to moving the team down field with the pass.
McDonald even saw his team get better Friday in the 55-28 loss at top-ranked and defending Class AAAA champ Sandy Creek.
'I thought we really did some good things on offense against what I thought was a really good defense,' McDonald said. 'I think we are growing up each week, when you play good teams, sometimes, you get you feeling hurt.'
Bryant has thrown seven touchdowns through the first three games to four wide receivers. Production as a whole may be up for a team that had five players with more than four catches in 2012. Heading into Game 3 last week, they already had four receivers matching that total led by sophomore Rendall Arnold's 10 over two games.
The Cougars offense will try and continue those trends this week when Newnan returns home to face Troup at Drake Stadium Friday night.
Offensive coordinator Kenny Morris wasn't sure what to expect when the team took the field three weeks ago against Marietta to open the season 'When you start off, you think you know what they are going to do,' said Morris. 'When you get into a game, it is a little different. We had so many new players that had really never played before, so it took us a game or two to get people in the right spots. You have to find out what is going to work for that team. We run the same offense each year, but sometimes you have to reinvent yourself. We have had a lot of guys step up and find their roles.'
It helps Bryant has one year of experience running the offense under his belt.
The Cougars second-year starter has stayed calm in some tough situations early this season.
'Without question, we lost some talented football players last year, but I think we have some really good players now. It is always going to take a few games to get a little chemistry going, but I think we are going to be just fine. I am really proud of the guys, and we are going to do some good things come the end of the season,' Bryant said.
Among the Cougars new go-to receivers is a converted 6-foot-8 basketball center Immanuel Griggs, who had attended spring practice three straight seasons, but hadn't returned for the fall until this year.'I really didn't want to get hurt because of basketball, then I realized I could get hurt as easily on the basketball court,' he said.
The senior is making the most of his only varsity football season, putting his height to good use.
'I think because of my size, I have an advantage over defensive backs. We are getting better, even though we lost (last week), but we are the first team to score 28 points against them (Sandy Creek) in a long time,' Griggs said.
It was the most points scored against the Patriots since a loss in the 2011 Class AAA State Quarterfinals.
Griggs leads the team with three touchdowns, grabbing one in each game, including a 50-yarder last week in the loss to the top-ranked Patriots.
Arnold, in his first varsity season as a contributor, has two scores while keeping a team-lead in receptions, hauling in at least three more of Bryant's passes last week.
'It's been hard since I am so young.' he said. 'I am just trying to get better. I have looked at a lot of film.'
Bryant has also thrown touchdowns passes to Chrishawn Dix and J.K. Britt.
Dix admits one of the things the Cougars have to work on is getting on the same page.
'We haven't really played a whole lot together, but we need to just keep working,' Dix said. 'I think we will be fine.'
One of the Cougars; favorite plays so far this year involves passing the ball to Britt out of the backfield.
Britt turned a short pass against LaGrange into a touchdown and also had a 59-yard run for a score last week against the Patriots.
Senior transfer Dee Snelling, who played at Trinity his first three varsity seasons, has aso made big plays in each of his last two games, scoring on a 73-yard option pitch last week.
'We have three other really good wide receivers, so we know if we all run our routs correctly, somebody is going to be open, Snelling said. 'We are executing things pretty well, we dropped some passes last week, we just have to get better at that.'
Bailey likes his team's ability to move the football through the air and on the ground. 'It's good that we can run and pass,' Bailey said. 'It takes some pressure off of me.' The Cougars may need some quick strike touchdowns from their wide receivers Friday night.
Troup comes into the game with a 1-1 record, including last week's 34-21 loss to Callaway High School.
The Tigers will try and keep the Cougars' offense off the field with a ball-control offense that centers around feeding the ball to their running backs.
Last week, the strategy backfired on Troup as turned over the football back over to Callaway five times.
When it was able to hold onto the ball, Troup racked up plenty of yardage, scoring on-back-to-back drives in the third quarter. McDonald knows the Tigers' want to control the clock as much as possible.
'They are going to give you a lot of unbalanced sets, McDonald said. 'They have a split back veer and a big fullback who is about 225 pounds and they bang him up there. You have to make sure you are taking care of your responsibilities. If you are supposed to play dive, you have to play dive. If you are supposed to be on the quarterback, you have to be on the quarterback. You have to be very disciplined and do your job. Ninety-five percent of the time they are going to run the football."