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Gladiators trying to stay more grounded

Opponents used to seeing a pass-happy attack might be surprised.

By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002

Opponents used to seeing a pass-happy attack might be surprised.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Head coach Al Davis likes to run the ball. Offensive coordinator Dave Cleppe likes to pass. This year, the two will try to find a happy medium after years of slinging the ball all over the field.

The first hint that something is afoot at Gibbs? There's a tight end.

A tight end? At Gibbs?

You bet.

"We still have an offense, but we won't be averaging 35 points a game," Davis said. "We hope we don't need to."

The Gladiators' shift in offensive philosophy, from wide open to more two-back sets, isn't so surprising. The team lost Pinellas County's leading passer in Ron Mathis and top wideouts in Chris Davis and DeAngelo Woodie.

"We're hoping to even it out a little more," Cleppe said. "Hopefully we can run the ball as well as we pass."

Lest opposing defenses get too happy with the new arrangement, Cleppe warns: "But we're not afraid to throw the ball either."

THROUGH THE AIR: Steve Gallagher inherits the quarterback job after serving as understudy to Mathis last season. Cleppe isn't sure Gallagher will put up the same kind of passing numbers, but he is secure with the knowledge that his new signal-caller won't need time to adjust to the system.

Gallagher's top target will be Jonathon Moore, a senior who had a good start last season before breaking his leg in the second week. Cleppe said there's a young group at wide receiver but someone always emerges.

As for that tight end? The name is Adam Boggs, he's a senior and the coaches are high on him.

"He showed us he can play tight end; he can catch the ball and block well too," Cleppe said.

ON THE GROUND: Again, someone always emerges at this spot. Look for Dujuan Davis, a smaller back who scoots through openings, and the bigger LaMarkus Ward to be those guys. Davis is high on his group of running backs, saying he has 4.4 and 4.3 speed there.

They will run behind a robust line Cleppe said is coming into its own: center Jesse George (5 feet 10, 220 pounds), guards David Macfeat (6-2, 270) and Tim Atwater (6-0, 270), and tackles David Latu (6-3, 305) and Janssen Hayes (6-2, 295).

DEFENSE: Davis is hoping to avoid the 35-28 shootouts of last year, and the defense will have to hold up its end.

Boggs is an excellent linebacker, and with fellow backer Ward and Siaosi Uhatafe -- who Davis said was moved to linebacker because colleges are interested in seeing him there -- makes up the strength of the defense.

The line will be big in the middle with strong tackles, and fast on the outside with rushers Marece Farrar and John Jackson.

At cornerback, Davis was still tinkering with his unit but likes the group as a whole. JUST FOR KICKS: Ward will do most of the kicking, which usually means the punting since Gibbs goes for two points more often than not.

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