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7-on-7 passing camps also a plus for defenses
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Gainesville coach Bruce Miller looks on as quarterback Mikey Gonzalez waits for a receiver to get open Thursday during the Fellowship of Christian Athletes passing camp at Johnson High. - photo by Jared Putnam | The Times

If you look closely during 7-on-7 summer football scrimmages, you’ll see defenses on the field. As much as these fast-paced passing camps are designed to improve offenses, coaches say the setup also gives them a great defensive test.

That was the case Thursday afternoon at Johnson High, where 10 teams converged for a Fellowship of Christian Athletes passing camp. It was a competitive, spirited affair, with tempers even flaring up a few times on the hot summer day, which was made a little less blistering by some clouds and light rain.

In an era of spread offenses and creative passing attacks, the practice for defenses is crucial.

“Defensively you get to see a lot of the exotic looks,” Johnson coach Jason Roquemore said. “And you get a lot of good work in the back half.”

Chestatee, East Hall, Flowery Branch, Gainesville, North Hall, Riverside Military, Banks County, Gilmer and North Paulding joined Johnson at the camp, which also featured workouts for linemen.

Offenses find the end zone often in 7-on-7, but working on checks and changes at the line of scrimmage is more important to defenses than keeping pretend points off the board.

“Teams are going to score,” East Hall assistant coach Morris Bingham said. “But as long as we’re getting better and communicating on the defensive side, that’s what we want to see.”

The reps become even more crucial for programs like North Hall, which lost 21 starters and had plenty of freshmen playing varsity on Thursday. The trial-by-fire of the passing camps can accelerate the learning curve.

“This is a big learning process for us,” said first-year Trojans head coach David Bishop. “We get more out of this defensively than offensively. It’s about learning our spots, how to play with each other and how to push each other.”

The camps also help coaches figure out who they can count on.

“We’ve got to create some depth,” Bishop said.

As the summer rolls on, it’s less than a month until teams can begin official fall practices with conditioning on July 25. The regular season begins Aug. 29.

Chestatee senior linebacker Kris Pierce said defenses get to adjust to how to handle their pass coverage and read routes. It’s also major preparation for the fall.

“It helps us out, especially in the summer, giving us an outlook of what we will face in the fall, teams like Flowery Branch and East Hall that we scrimmaged,” Pierce said.

Flowery Branch senior linebacker Cole Ford emphasized how 7-on-7 camps give teams a chance to know how to prepare for different types of offensive attacks, from the Wing-T to the spread.

With offensive successes such an expected part of the day, the rare exploits of the defenses become some of the most celebrated occurrences.

“It feels good because it’s really hard not to let the team score,” Ford said. “It’s geared to the offense.”

Pierce has one suggestion to make it more rewarding for the defense.

“I wish we could return interceptions for touchdowns,” Pierce said.

Gainesville head coach Bruce Miller said the 7-on-7 settings do a great deal to help teams’ defensive backs and linebackers, putting things in place and leaving less to introduce in the fall.

“It helps you tremendously,” Miller said. “You’ve already got all your coverages and seen about every kind of route you can imagine.”

Almost to a man, the coaches said one of the most important aspects of the passing camps is having fun with the sport. But coaches certainly take it as a chance to move closer to their goals for the fall, as well.

“It’s a great time to improve some things, polish some things and strengthen your strengths,” Roquemore said.

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