By Times staff
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001
If there is a question mark this season, it's at running back where the Pirates must replace the area's most dominant rusher in Nate Madison. Junior Ryan McNally and sophomore Chianta Smith have been tabbed as Madison's replacements, with John Wang, Scott O'Steen and Desmond Atkins seeing time as backups.
If his performance in the spring jamboree is any indication (6 carries, 103 yards), McNally, who has added 15 pounds in the offseason and showed breakaway ability in the spring jamboree, should prove to be an able successor.
"He makes nice cuts and looked a little faster in the spring," Pirates coach Jere DeFoor said. "I think that comes from all the work he did."
The quarterback position has never been more solid with Clayton Trenary. Crystal River might pass more this season and Trenary has three good targets in Michael Jones (wingback), Will Bleakley (tight end) and Scott Miller (split end).
The offensive line is equally deep and talented with four starters -- center Jacob Langenmayr, tackles Robbie Thompson and Chauncey Minor and standout Matt Hinman -- returning. Josh Gardner, who saw action last year, will play at weakside guard while Hinman makes the switch from tackle to strongside guard.
A potential problem has appeared with the injury to middle linebacker Sam Force in the preseason. Force, who led the team with 103 tackles last season, injured his knee lifting weights, and his loss could result in some major reshuffling. Though he's expected to return by tomorrow's opener, it is contingent on a medical release from his doctor.
With Force in the lineup, the Crystal River defense is as formidable as any in recent years. Tackles Hinman and Thompson were a force in the middle last year and should be even stronger this year. The same goes for Bleakley and Eric Grannan at end. Bleakley, who added more than 15 pounds in the offseason, was third on the team with 75 tackles last season and his strong leg should be a major help in the kicking game.
"(Hinman) was one of our most improved players last year," DeFoor said. "He's really worked hard from his sophomore year to this year to get stronger. He was a much better player last year from that work."
Wang and McNally will be the starters on the outside and both have improved since last year, their first as varsity starters. Force should be the leader inside and could be paired with one of several players, including O'Steen, Charles Slattery or Langenmayr.
The defensive backfield is solid with Trenary anchoring things at safety. Miller and three-year starter Jones will play the corners.