ELLISVILLE – A look at the Jones County Junior College offensive depth chart reveals a few things. There is a quarterback, the five offensive line slots and a running back. And then you have the X, Y, Z and H positions listed – receivers from sideline to sideline.
"I guess you can call it a ‘spread’ offense,” said first-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach David Thornton. “There are so many versions and types of the spread. You have three wides and a tight end or a shotgun. The old ‘run and shoot’ you could call a type of spread.
“I guess the exact version of it would have something to do with having an H back. But we are a version of the spread and that’s who we are.”
The offense is a bit different than last year, especially when it comes to terminology. But the Bobcats do have a talented player behind center to trigger their attack.
Ben Stevens, a sophomore from West Jones, returns after a solid freshman campaign. Stevens started all nine games last year, completing 188-of-306 passes for 2,078 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Thornton has been impressed with Stevens.
“Ben is a very technique-savvy player, “ he said. “As far as every little thing technique-wise, he does it perfectly. He is very sound in what he does. You tell him to take this step, he takes this step. You tell him to take this read and he does. He is very football-savvy.
“At quarterback, you want somebody like that who understands the game and who is – in a sense – a coach on the field and Ben is like that.”
Thornton added that Stevens has picked up the new offensive system quickly.
“We went through the spring and summer learning it and, of course, we are in camp now,” Thornton said. “He has picked it up fine. We had a walk-through last night and I am over here with somebody and he is on the other side helping somebody out. He understands what we want to do. It does not take him long to pick things up and he has been a big help with his ability to do that.”
Stevens (6-2, 195) is considered one of the top returning signal-callers in the MACJC and is noted for his throwing ability. But Thornton said his running skills have improved since 2011.
“Ben throws the ball very well and he moves around pretty good, too,” he said. “He has gotten faster in the off-season. I’ve enjoyed working with him.”
Also at quarterback for the Bobcats will be Ethan Hamilton, a freshman who led Noxapater to its first-ever MHSAA 1A state championship last year.
Hamilton (6-2, 220) passed for 1,998 yards and ran for another 1,328 yards last season in guiding the Tigers to the state crown.
“Ethan is a little bit different style of quarterback than Ben,” Thornton said. “He’s done a great job of picking everything up. He put on a little weight in the offseason and he looks really good. He is a big, strong guy.
“He is more of a dual-threat guy. He is a runner and a passer and can do both well. He gives us some versatility offensively.”
Thornton said that he started from the ground up with Stevens and Hamilton this summer, as far as quarterback play is concerned.
“Ben and Ethan both came here in June and July so they could do quarterback drills, learn footwork and that type of thing,” he said. “I came at it with the approach that they did not know anything and we started with the basics. We wanted to make sure they were doing everything right as far as mechanics and they both did a good job.”
Thornton has worked mostly with Bobcat quarterbacks, but as coordinator, he has had to implement and teach for the entire offense. He said the whole group is picking it up well.
“It’s been good,” he said. “We used the summer term to install and get everything in we could. We are now slowing it down a little bit and getting more specific with some things and adding some tags to some things. We are getting more detailed in what we are going to do.
“The players have worked hard and have done a great job.”
One thing that has helped with the installation of a new offense is the fact that four starters in the offensive line return.
Thornton said that is a boost for the Bobcats.
“That’s a big plus for us,” he said. “I was a graduate assistant working for Watson Brown at UAB and he is one of the best offensive coaches in the country. I remember him saying that it all starts up front and he is absolutely right. I’ve coached offensive line before and when you’ve got guys up there with that experience, you can’t replace that. With all of those guys with that experience up there, it really helps us.”
At the receiver positions, JCJC has a mixture of sophomores and freshmen. But Thornton is very impressed with their talent.
“We’ve got some receivers who are upperclassmen and some who are freshmen,” he said. “It is a highly skilled group. They run extremely well and are probably one of the fastest groups I have ever had. They do a great job of catching the ball.
“They also literally started with the basics and are doing a great job with the details.”
It is the same situation at running back with experience and newcomers.
“We’ve got some good running backs, too,” he said. “They can all catch the ball out of the backfield and do some good things for us.”
Thornton believes the Bobcats have the ability to succeed. But he knows they must perform on the field when the games begin.
“We have a lot of returners and we need those guys to take a leadership role,” he said. “Ben does that, (wide receiver) Stephanio McNair does that and (center) J.T. Myers does that. They do a great job of stepping up. They are taking ownership of that leadership role.
“I tell our players my playing days are over. I wish I could play, but I can’t.
But I’m on the sidelines and I can work hard and get them as ready as I possibly can. That’s what we’ve tried to do. But they have to take ownership of it and go with it.”
Overall, Thornton has high expectations for the Bobcat offense this fall.
“I am very encouraged by what I’ve seen,” he said. “I am looking forward to getting into the season and seeing how they grow, mature and improve.”
The Bobcats will open the 2012 season under first-year head coach Ray Perkins at 7 p.m. on Aug. 30 against the Holmes Community College Bulldogs at Bobcat Stadium/Sim Cooley Field.
The game will be telecast on www.jcjc.tv with Mark Easley and Ed Smith on the call. The game will also air on WLAU-FM, 99.3.