As good as the Neville run game has been thus far, coaches plan on making it better. Leave it to a coach to find areas to improve in a running attack that’s produced 33 touchdowns in seven games and averaging almost 300 yards per game.
The same can be said for running back Donald Jenkins: his coaches think his 10 touchdowns and 93 yards per game can improve. And if it does, opposing defenses aren’t going to like how he does it.
As the Tigers go down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs, the plan is for Jenkins to use his 5-foot-2, 200-pound body as a punishing force on opposing front sevens.
“I think he’s had some games where he’s run well and he’s had other games where he needs to lower his pads and run with a little more authority. We’re always pushing him for more, for more, for more, and we’ll continue to do that,” Neville head coach Mickey McCarty said. “He’s had a good year for us, he’s made some big runs and we’ll certainly need him to stay healthy the rest of the way and provide that big punch between the tackles.”
Jenkins cracked a smile and said he’s enjoyed developing as a physical runner; now, his coaches just want more of it.
“I think he’s gotten more physical from last year to this year, definitely. Leaps and bounds,” Neville offensive coordinator Brett Lemoine said. “He just needs to do it all the time without being reminded.”
To be fair, Jenkins’ learning curve in Neville’s program has been steeper than most of his teammates. Jenkins is a transfer from Cedar Creek, where Lemoine pointed out it was easier for Jenkins to easily take the edge and dominate without too much contact. The 4A game requires a different style of game, and that change doesn’t simply apply to his body type.
“Where we’ve seen the biggest improvement with him is understand our scheme in his senior year. He understands the scheme more, which allows him to be more aggressive running the ball, reading blocks, knowing where his blocks are coming from,” McCarty said. “We have quite a few blocking schemes and he’s understanding more of them better.”
Lemoine specified Jenkins’ development in power and counter plays: the design of those plays revolves around a kick-out block on the playside edge and a second blocker, often a pulling guard or tight end, running through that hole to pave the way to the second level for Jenkins. Jenkins agreed he’s learned how to use blockers in those situations, allowing them to get to the hole first so he can get through it untouched.
“He’s understanding a lot more of a system, and I think this is true of any position: when you don’t have to think as much, it makes you play faster, and when you play faster, you have a better chance of success,” Lemoine said.
Jenkins’ continued – and the Tigers hope increased – success is more than an individual performance boost for the Neville offense: the presence of a physical, in-between-the-tackles runner like Neville wants Jenkins to be comes with its obvious setup opportunities.
“They’re going to have to insert another guy in the box, probably a safety,” Lemoine said. “If you’re putting them inside, it does open up some options for what we can do on the outside, and we have plays that do that.”
McCarty added, “A dominating, punishing runner: that’s what we’d like to see out of him. He has that ability.”
Follow Brett on Twitter, @BHudsonTNS.