Burros wrap up first week of post-dead period practices, prepare for upcoming scrimmages
The Burroughs football team has a slew of seniors – 27 to be exact – which gives the Burros much-needed experience as the football season looms.
That’s the good news.
The bad news? Well, for one, it’ll make for a lengthy Senior Night ceremony.
However, for now, talks of late October are well in the back seat. The Burros returned from their dead period this week as the summer session winds down until Aug. 25, a date circled on every Burro’s calendar. That’s when the next round of the annual Palmdale-Burroughs opening kickoff game takes place.
By then, Burroughs head coach Todd Mather wants to be three steps ahead.
“We’re going to have already prepared for Palmdale, Tehachapi, and Rancho Verde,” he said, referring to the Burros' first three opponents. “We want the kids to be in that game mode of this is how we prepare for games from Monday through Thursday.”
That progression will vary week by week, but by the end of this week, the coaching staff was more than pleased with what they saw on the field. Specifically, the dead period was not detrimental.
“It was way better than I expected,” Mather said. “The kids were focused; they’re in better shape than I thought they would be when they got back. (There’s) a lot of learning, a lot of fundamentals and just slowly working different play packages. It’s going smoothly.”
Cue the case in point – the upperclassmen are consistent.
“Fourteen of them have been here since they were sophomores,” Mather said. “So, it’s routine. Obviously, we change stuff every year, but for the most part, we have our core values and fundamentals that we do. It makes it easier.”
Despite the abundance of experience, there are still gaps in certain positions – especially in the second string – that the Burroughs coaching staff is scratching its head to fix. Mather relies on previous experience: there are names that come seemingly out of nowhere to fill in those missing pieces.
“We have guys who step up every year,” he said. “The freshman program does a good job, JV program does a good job. What’s weird is that kids at this age, over one offseason, they change into a completely different person.
“The offseason’s huge. It’s a big growth time for them. They get size, strength, and speed, and next thing you know, they’re filling the gap. It’s attributed to our offseason strength and conditioning program.”
Here are a few tidbits from the first week of work after the dead period:
In the week prior to the dead period, Mather worked closely with his linemen to teach them proper blocking techniques, spending as long as an hour and a half each practice to get things down.
The tough part, he said, was getting his core five linemen together at one time, as there was always one missing during a certain workout – for various reasons – going as far back as spring ball.
“My frustration’s been that they haven’t been able to work together, picking up blitzes and twists, and you have to spend that time together,” Mather said.
Now, there’s a shift. Mather has been able to focus more on overseeing the practice field, while the linemen have been working closely with their coach, Ipo Camacho.
“We have them,” Mather said. “We’re still missing one or two here, but overall they know what they’re doing. That’s key. They know where they’re supposed to be, working on their technique, and right now, I’m happy with them.”
Mather and co-offensive coordinator Jason Griffin, both former quarterbacks, have been known for their spread offense. However, this offseason, Mather has been more open to the option. Therefore, there has been an emphasis on playing small-ball.
“The focus is more on timing,” Mather said, “and not trying to get as many yards in chunks. It’s more about the 5-yard gains and not the 15-to-20-yard gains.”
That does not mean it’s going to be a strictly run game.
“It’s not just run,” Mather said. “It’s also quick passing. If we throw on time, and we push the routes to the right depth, it’s hard to cover, even when they know what’s coming.
“We have to be creative with our run game because of our size.”
Additionally, the Burros continued their work on their inside and outside zone game, a point that Mather said will be a strength for the squad.
“We’re going to be a very good zone team,” he said. “With that, there’s going to be different guys there that we’ll be reading each week. There are different in-game adjustments of who we’re going to be reading now because if one guy is killing us, we’re going to need him blocked.
Tuesdays and Thursdays have been designated as defense days and returning defensive coordinator Elijah Soto alongside coaches Evan Sherritt and Tony Brown have been fine-tuning established techniques given the personnel on the field.
“I was a little concerned, like most coaches are, that you come off a three-week dead period, see where the kids are at, and they’ve dropped in their conditioning or their motivation can be hindered sometimes,” Soto said. “But honestly, with the great four days of practice, both defensive practices have been very charged with energy, and we got a lot accomplished in the first week back.”
The Burros have implemented portions of their gameplan that they adopted from college playbooks. But the main emphasis has been on stopping the base of a typical high-school playbook: the run game. Specifically, the inside run.
“Offensively, teams are going to take the easiest route,” Soto said. “If you can run up the middle on teams, why do anything else? You’re controlling the clock, you’re demoralizing the defense, you’re able to keep possession of the ball. In order to get the ball back in our offense’s hands, you have to be able to shut the run down and have them try to explode our edges or go to the air.”
That’s when, defensively, the big plays happen. Interceptions, three-and-outs, and lower time of possession.
“It’s very critical, as a defensive coach, to look out for your offense as well,” Soto said. “If they’re driving on you, and you can’t get the ball back by getting three-and-outs, then you’re not doing your part.”
Speaking of three-and-outs, Tuesday’s practice featured a third-and-5 drill, complete with chains and all, where the Burroughs defense tried to stop the scout offense from extending its drive.
“We played it well,” Soto said. “We need to tighten it up a little bit. We need to contest the throws that are at the sticks a little bit better while not giving up our positions.”
Those situations are where the Burros show their teeth. Given a typical high school offense, a team could have a variety of options: either stick with the run and go for the short yards or take to the skies, whether it be a checkdown, a vertical route or a stick play.
“It’s a tricky thing for defenses to have to defend,” Soto said. “Bottom line: I think we’ll be more aggressive on some of the quick outs and slants. Outside of that, if you have a front four that can create pressure without having to blitz anyone out of position, then you’re in a good spot.”
Moving forward, Soto took a look at his secondary for what he will focus on next.
"There are a few stunt blitz concepts that I want to have installed and understood," he said.
The Burros are planning to test their skills at a passing league tournament hosted by Riverside Prep on Thursday. Despite it closing out a week of practices, Mather asserts that the small scrimmages are just like any old day at Burroughs.
“We treat that as a practice,” Mather said. “Our linemen will be here (at the Burroughs practice field) for a regular practice, about an hour and 20 minutes or so, and they’ll be in the weight room. We’re going to get our pass game practice. We’re going to see different route concepts, different speeds from receivers, different pass coverages.”
What's next on the Burros' to-do list: special teams. They have had their early-outs prior to the full practices, but Mather's idea is to have a day dedicated to special teams in addition to the split offense and defense emphases.
"Next week, we want to have a huge emphasis on special teams," Mather said. "We've done a great job, we've met every night after practice as coaches while the kids are in the weight room, going over every detail of special teams. We have new special teams drills that we run, and the kids saw that today."
Soto added: "We've got a lot of work to do there, and I'm hoping that by this time next week, we'll have said that we got in quite a bit of our special teams packages."