tampabay.com

Packers can take loss

By JOHN C. COTEY
Published August 25, 2006


One might think Rick Rodriguez would be wringing his hands over the loss of 2,000-yarder Dexter McCluster, but guess what?

He's smiling.

Sure, the coach misses the best player he ever coached. Who wouldn't. But with a strong group of returners, depth that will make the two-way player at Largo an endangered species in 2006 and speed to burn in his backfield, he is eyeing another deep playoff run after making the regional finals last year.

Such high hopes were momentarily halted in the spring game, when the Packers lost to Osceola. But Rodriguez said he was missing nine guys - three were hurt, three were ineligible and three others were being disciplined.

After what he's seen this fall, hopes are high once again.

THROUGH THE AIR: Leonard Johnson Jr. returns as the starter after exploding in last year's playoffs. The excitable junior will need to stay poised with the added responsibility this year of being one of the team's leaders.

"He's looking real good," Rodriguez said. "My prediction: he'll be one of the top players in the county."

Rodriguez lost some good wide receivers, so he's hoping tall pass catchers Reginald McCray (6-2, 175) and Mario Goshey (6-0, 160) fill in.

ON THE GROUND: Rodriguez thinks he might have the next McCluster (Psst!: The kid's name is Kim Howard), but he's only a sophomore so the load will fall on the strong and broad shoulders of Brynn Harvey and a committee.

He'll share some of the load with brother Greg, a Seminole transfer, and cousin Brian Harvey. Rodriguez said fullback Antonio Patterson (6-1, 210) will also see some carries.

The Packer offensive line should be improved as well. Senior Kyle Peters, a 6-10, 300-pound two-year starter at right tackle, heads up a fine bunch.

DEFENSE! DEFENSE! Feldman and Cormaine "Cannon Ball" Howard (5-9, 320) will play tackle, and Mark Kaigler and Mike Delguidice will start at defensive end.

At linebacker, Greg Harvey, Michael Marry, and Malcolm Durham are all fast. Rodriguez says they are "one of the better bunches we've had in a while."

Johnson may see some time at defensive back, and Brian Harvey, Cortez Hearns, Tavaris Briggs Aarion Dampier are in the mix for the other spots.

The Packers defense was underrated last year, but should grab more of the attention this year.

JUST FOR KICKS: The big question mark for Largo, which is still looking for a placekicker. Johnson will punt.