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Johnson, Denney molding offensive line for Jays

Johnson, Denney molding offensive line for Jays

August 13th, 2017 by Jason Strickland in Sports Prep

Jefferson City Jays offensive linemen (from left) Davonta Finney, Kentrell Oliver and Ryan Denney get set prior to a snap during a game against Hickman last season.

Photo by Jason Strickland /News Tribune.

They aren't the loudest, meanest or biggest guys on the football field, but their presence is making a difference for the Jefferson City Jays.

Ryan Denney and Van Johnson, both seniors on the Jays' offensive line, enter the season with the most experience — a combined 13 games.

The number is low, but the bulk of Johnson's game time has been on the other side of the ball. His job has been staving off offensive linemen, not blocking defenders such as himself.

That changed late last season when Johnson moved to right tackle for two games. He'll begin this season as a leader of the offense.

"I'm ready to come out here and get our young guys ready and prepared for the season," Johnson said at last Saturday's Media Day at Adkins Stadium.

Denney made the transition from tight end to center and guard prior to last season and became a regular starter. Denney, along with Johnson, is trying to get the newcomers up to speed.

"Just in the drills and in the practices, making sure they know just taking the correct steps and little stuff like that," Denney said.

Cole Campbell, Skylar Bohannon, Austin Schrimpf and Mason Green, all juniors, are in the mix for the remaining spots on the line. All are listed at 240 pounds or more, which will be helpful when going up against teams with defensive linemen that weigh 280 pounds or more.

"We're going to have some size that we haven't had before," Jays coach Ted LePage said, "but with size comes the responsibility to use the size and that's what those two guys are trying to correct them on in how to get them to go where they need to go."

What may hold this group back are the little things: technique, what to do and where to go on certain plays. But there looks to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

"I think we have probably one of the best offensive lines we've had in a couple years," Johnson said. "We've really been pushing ourselves. I think we're going to be a good part of the offense this year."

Johnson, Denney and the rest of the line will be protecting a new backfield.

Junior Devin Roberson takes over the quarterback spot for Gunnar See, who threw for more than 2,300 yards with 27 touchdowns during his senior season.

See was also the second leading rusher for the Jays with 346 yards and six scores.

Roberson provides more size than See, opening up the possibility of even more quarterback runs.

"We feel like we can still do some of the things we did last year, but we're going to go probably toward the strength of this team and the strength of this team is that we've got a little bit more size," LePage said. "We're probably going to go back to a little bit more true option football with the opportunities we have."

Maleek Jackson, a junior, is expected to join Roberson in the backfield as he moves from receiver to running back.

LePage said he noticed Jackson had gained size during track season, leading to the decision for the move.

"Why waste that at receiver, let's put the ball in his hands," LePage said. "He's had a really good camp. And the nice thing with him, he plays hard, he wants to get better. He's kind of scary from the perspective of we don't know how much better he can get."

Time is winding down for the new pieces to come together, with the Week 1 matchup at McCluer North less than a week away.

The Jays used Saturday to study film from Friday night's scrimmage at Adkins Stadium, and the new pieces on offense will use this week of practice to continue to mold together before Friday's 4:15 p.m. kickoff.

Johnson seems confident.

"We've got a great quarterback, great backs and just to top it off a good offensive line," Johnson said.