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Patriots sizing up playoff potential

September 02, 1998|By CURT HORNBECKER / Staff Correspondent

FREDERICK, Md - Ben Wright can only hope he's right.

The Thomas Johnson head football coach, entering his 14th season with the Patriots, believes his 1998 club will "be all right."

With All-State Honorable Mention quarterback Ricky Roberts, and All-State first team line-backer/running back LeRoy Ambush - both of whom rushed for over 1,000 yards last year - returning from a 11-2 Class A state finalist squad, "all right" appears to be an understatement.

But a somewhat deeper analysis reveals that the Pats are returning just six starters from the '97 campaign, lack overall depth and size, and face a brutal schedule.

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"We're real small physically, and we don't have a lot of numbers," said Wright. "Out biggest problem is depth. We have nine kids playing both ways. But Ambush and Roberts both rushed for over 1,000 yards last year."

When the opposing defenses begin keying on Ambush and Roberts, Wright will rely on 160-pound junior Jared Benoit, among others, to pick up critical yardage, with Ambush, at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds - among the largest players on the team - acting as either a decoy or lead blocker.

According to Wright, substantial improvement is needed to consider the passing game a viable option.

"That's one thing we're not very good at," said the TJ coach, "but we're working on it. We lost a real good player at tight end, who moved out of town, and our split ends graduated. But we're still going to have to throw the ball more than we did last year."

The strength of the defense will be at the linebacker and end positions. Ambush, "probably the best player in this part of the state" according to Wright, will start at one spot, with senior Josh Inscoe starting at defensive end. Any one of four others will vie for the remaining two positions.

But with a schedule which includes Middletown, Linganore, Urbana and Loyola of Baltimore, the Pats' lack of size might really come into play.

"Our big kids are 200 to 210 pounds," said Wright. "We'll play at least six teams that will have at least one 300-pound lineman. Our nose guard (junior Jay LeBlanc) will only be 140 pounds, but he's quick and mean.

"I think speed is more important than size, anyway. If we're going to be little, we better be quick."

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