Plano East may be undersized on the offensive line, but it isn’t stopping them from being aggressive on offense in 2022.
The Panthers return two starters and have several depth options for the upcoming season. The two returning starters, Gavin Speight and Ralee Jackson are poised to take on bigger roles in the new year.
Speight returns at the center position as the leader of the group for Plano East. Despite being listed at 175 pounds online, coach Tony Benedetto said he makes up for it and then some with his intelligence and tenacity on the football field.
“If you wanted to look up toughness in the dictionary that’s the kind of kid he is,” Benedetto said. “He’s small but brings a toughness, energy and understanding of the game to the offensive line. You might see us on film and think we’re too small on the line, but he will fight every play. He’s a smart kid and the staple of our line.”
Along with Speight, Jackson returns to start at right tackle for the Panthers. The 260-pound rising junior is one of the more promising prospects in the Plano East varsity roster, possessing a blend of speed and strength in the trenches.
“He’s so quick and agile and athletic that he’s going to be a huge part of the offensive line,” Benedetto said. “We’ll run screen passes and he’s so fast to get out ahead of the play and make a block.”
With a high-level player like Jackson coupled with Plano East replacing its top two running backs from last season, coach Benedetto said the key will be using Jackson’s skill set to maximize its ability on the offensive side of the ball.
“You get to be a lot more diverse at the offensive line,” Benedetto said. “We’ll have Ralee pull, counter, down block and set the edge for us. Our run game can have all of these aspects now where he’s able to lead the way and his skill set opens that Pandora’s box for defenses to deal with.”
Filling out the group, Adrian Lopez and CJ Chaloux move up from junior varsity competing for the two offensive guard positions. Coach Benedetto said Lopez is the kind of player who just loves the game and is eager to get back on the field, while Chaloux moves up to the varsity level as just a sophomore.
They’ll compete with Aden Luecke for the guard spots, who returned from an injury last season. Luecke is still currently working on both sides of the ball, but the coaching staff believes he would help nicely an inexperienced group on the offensive side.
Corbin Glass and Jase Adams compete for the final spot at left tackle. Coach Benedetto likes the size of both players at the position, with Glass at 6-foot-3 and Adams at 6-foot-5. Glass was named the top offensive lineman at Stephen F. Austin’s offseason camp this summer.
With three spots still up for grabs, the Panthers new head coach said the competition will go deep into the summer.
“They say football teaches life skills and it’s the same we look for when looking for starters,” Benedetto said. “It comes down to who is the most consistent, creates the best habits and is going to work hard. Athletically, they’re all in a great spot, but it’s the players who separate themselves doing those things that will go a long way to earning a job.”
Coach Benedetto hired David Joeckel as the offensive coordinator to fill out his coaching staff. Along with a former offensive lineman himself, Joeckel has been a longtime offensive line coach in the area, along with being the brother of former No. 2 overall draft pick Luke Joeckel out of Texas A&M.
With the offense changing systems for its second time in two years, coach Benedetto said he will be key to getting the offensive lineman up to speed. In the end, the head coach believes that his group will succeed through unity and the ability to buy into the new schemes this summer.
“There’s an instant credibility there and his knowledge of the offensive line,” Benedetto said. “It’s allowed the kids to buy in a little bit more. He’s changed their stances a bit and changed some of their calls and they’re beginning to see why he’s doing those things and why it works.”
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By Kyle Grondin • [email protected]