HomeSportsJCS’ defensive line thriving in new 3-man front

JCS’ defensive line thriving in new 3-man front

Over the last few years, Jackson Christian has slowly built itself into a top football program in rural West Tennessee.

The Eagles have competed for region championships, made long playoff runs on a regular basis and scored a lot of points in the process.

But one thing that’s slowly, consistently gotten better over the past few years is the defense – particularly up front.

The Eagles’ two most recent games – dominant wins over Tipton-Rosemark and First Assembly Christian Schools – netted a combined 161 yards of total offense from the two region rivals.

And while the linebackers and secondary are putting up large numbers of tackles on some nights, everyone on that side of the ball knows where that kind of production starts: Up front.

Cedric Anderson, Kaleb Newsome and Gavin Walker make up the starting defensive line for the Eagles, a switch from last year in which they went from a four-man front to a three-man.

Newsome moved up from linebacker to lineman.

“I wasn’t sure about the move at first,” Newsome said. “You put your hand on the ground and work up from there on the snap, I wasn’t sure how effective I’d be starting from that position.”

It took some work. But each of the players were each putting work in and improving. But they still were cautious about getting overly optimistic.

“We kept telling them to continue to put in the work and do their job, and then in scrimmages or early games, they’d see how it’s supposed to be,” said Eagles head coach Darby Palmer.

June workouts came and went. As did dead period and July. Late July and early August brought scrimmages, and even then, the linemen weren’t seeing the entirety of the scheme, but in Week 1 the picture began to come into focus.

And since then, the three linemen have continued to work on doing their job within the defense clog the holes early in offense, occupy as many blockers as possible to free up teammates to get into the backfield and disrupt the opposing offense as much as possible. And then if a tackle or an interception or fumble recovery is available, they’re able to take it and do what they can with it.

It’s not as enjoyable work as the linebackers and secondary generally get to do, but the trio say that’s not their top priority.

“Winning,” Newsome said when asked what the priority is.

Anderson, who was also skeptical about the formation change, said Gilliom did a good job of teaching him how to play the position correctly and most effectively as he moved over to the center to play nose tackle.

“Coach Gill teaches me to get down in as low of a stance as possible,” Anderson said about going against centers, who are typically shorter than nose tackles. “And he’s done a good job at teaching us how to deal with double teams and fight both guys at the same time.

“Because if I’m getting double-teamed and I’m keeping both of those guys occupied trying to keep me contained, then hopefully that leaves someone else open to get into the backfield or get to the ball quicker.”

For Walker, the transition has been more drastic because he hasn’t been a part of the program as long and he’d played more on the offensive side of the ball than defensive, and he’d moved around between receiver and tight end with that.

But then they brought him over to the defensive side playing on the line, his education was even more crucial.

“When I came here last year, I was getting acclimated to the team culture and learning from the older guys how things are done here,” Walker said. “But over time I got the hang of what they were trying to do with me in this position, and then when we did start playing games, it was a lot easier to see the overall vision for our entire unit.”

The work in a new scheme has paid off. The Eagles are 7-0 coming out of the bye week, and the majority of the games before the break weren’t that close.

But a different challenge comes to Jackson this week as the Eagles get out of region play one last time this regular season and they host Lake County with their effective run game. Running back Calvin Mullins already has more than 1,900 rushing yards on the season, so the Falcons have a stout ground game.

“This is a game we’re looking forward to because it will test us and really show us how we are at stopping the run,” Palmer said. “We’ve done a good job in stopping run for most of the season, but Lake County has a special back that carries the ball for them.

“Our guys will have to be locked in to keep him or anyone else on their team from doing too much.”

Brandon Shields,

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