Starting Thursday, a series of chess matches will break out on high school football fields across the state.
By definition, scrimmages are akin to shifting pieces around on a square board. Some moves work while others produce less-than-desirable results. Regardless of what transpires during these low-pressure yet highly valuable tussles on the gridiron, coaches understand that the time has come to embark on the next phase of preseason camp following a period of steadily bringing the unit along.
“In terms of a game setting, the speed during scrimmages will definitely be ramped up more so than seen during a typical practice,” explained Burrillville head man Gennaro Ferraro.
Added Cumberland’s Chris Skurka: “You can evaluate yourself against somebody else who’s been preparing all this time too.”
Per decree of the R.I. Interscholastic League, teams must wait 10 days before scrimmaging other schools. At this stage, it’s conceivable that coaches have a firm handle on the personnel roster all while implementing the varying offensive and defensive schemes that will undoubtedly be tweaked throughout the course of the season’s journey.
For all the daily piercing whistles that are designed to bring practice to a screeching halt, something notable has been missing – putting a hand on the ground or on one’s thigh pads and looking across the way to see a foreign face staring right back at you. Granted, scrimmages are not solely designated with the intention of providing players with a forum to slug it out with someone besides a teammate.
In the eyes of coaches, the value of scrimmages cannot be underscored.
“Obviously it allows us to go against another team and see where we stand,” Shea’s Dino Campopiano said. “We definitely have some kids fighting for positions so this is a good way to evaluate guys more clearly at different positions.”
There’s also the chance to see just how much information the players have processed and retained as it relates to making their own checks (audible calls, line blocking, etc.). This time, though, they’ll be performing said tasks in a close-to-but-not-quite game situation that figures to test a player’s ability to think fast on his feet.
“During the scrimmages, we look at any of the things we’ve installed during training camp. We’ll end up scrapping some things while moving forward on other things,” said Ferraro. “It’s not necessarily about seeing someone else. I think the players are anticipating how they will compete against another team.”
These scrimmages come with a disclaimer. They’ll have a controlled vibe to them with opposing coaches likely discussing what they seek to accomplish prior to getting underway. For some coaches, the checklist may include running goal-to-go plays while others may lean toward kick-off coverage. Whatever the preface, rest assured these get-togethers will feature plenty of hands-on direction.
“You can stop what’s going on and coach the kids right on the field,” Campopiano mentioned.
“You’re still in the midst of the learning process so it’s a good chance to make some last-minute corrections,” Skurka said. “It’s definitely a dress rehearsal but you have the ability to go over things as needed.”
Echoed Ferraro, “The scrimmages are very structured.”
There’s also the expectation factor as coaches are bracing for what may or may not transpire.
“You’re going to get beat on a lot of plays and vice versa,” was Ferraro’s way of raising the caution flag. “In a scrimmage-type setting, a lot time the offense has the advantage.”
The scrimmages will also include the presence of officials.
“It definitely helps the kids realize what they might have been getting away with early on during camp,” Skurka said. “Having the officials there to throw a few flags, it helps put into context what (the coaching staff) may not have seen during practice and what you can improve on. They make it more of a real situation.”
“The officials do a good job in making sure everyone is lined up accordingly and going through the varying procedures,” says Ferraro about specific areas that the men in striped shirts will undoubtedly have their eyes fixated upon.
Pawtucket’s Max Read Field will host a three-way scrimmage Thursday night that involves Shea, Exeter/West Greenwich and Johnston. On Saturday the Raiders will travel to North Smithfield before visiting to Mount Pleasant next Tuesday. For Cumberland, a matchup with Lincoln is on the docket Thursday with Saturday yielding a meeting with Portsmouth. Burrillville’s first opponent will be Warwick Vets on Friday with an encounter with La Salle Academy scheduled for Monday.
Woonsocket will scrimmage Central Falls and Cranston East with Tolman facing Rogers on Thursday and Narragansett on Saturday.
Once the scrimmages are in the books, the next item on the docket is to get ready for the Injury Fund, a two-quarter exhibition that for some teams will take place next Thursday, Aug. 30 while others will get after it on Friday, Aug. 31.
“The Injury Fund will be the first situation where the coaches aren’t on the field with the players,” said Campopiano about yet another checkpoint that leads up to the commencement of the regular season.