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Zedalis: High School football coaches disagree on importance of 7-on-7 … – The Times of Trenton

How necessary are 7-on-7 scrimmages? And what does a high school football team really get out of them? How much did teams actually gain by running pass routes on nights last week when the heat index cracked triple digits?

How much does a quarterback improve when throwing without the harassment of a pass rush and against vanilla coverages?

Can you really assess the reliability and courage of a receiver when he knows a facemask isn’t going to be implanted between his scapulas?

What does a defense get out of a scrimmage when play-action is nullified because there are no running plays? Do defenders increase their football IQ when down and distance are irrelevant and when deception is against the rules?

Some coaches say yes. Others say no.

What we do know is success in 7-on-7 competitions in July — those played without pads and helmets — does not guarantee success in September, October and November, when drops and interceptions count, when blind-side hits are part of the game and when guys in striped shirts toss yellow flags in the secondary.

“In 1993 when I was at Holmdel, we went to a 7-on-7 at Cresskill High School and lost in the finals to St. Joseph-Montvale,” said Skip Edwards, the new head coach at West Windsor-Plainsboro South. “They are not a true indicator of how you will be when opponents can distract the quarterback and hit your receivers.”

In fact, Edwards called 7-on-7 scrimmages “a false indicator.”

Proponents of the scrimmages, which pit offenses minus lineman against the linebackers and secondary of a defense, say they build team chemistry, help players on both sides of the ball visualize unfolding events during the course of a play and improve timing between quarterbacks and receivers.

And there isn’t a coach breathing who will say that competition — in any form — isn’t beneficial to an athlete’s soul.

“One benefit you get from going 7-on-7 with somebody else that you don’t get going by yourself is, you get your first team against somebody else’s first team,” said Hightstown head coach Pete Brescia. “You can also get your second team against a first team.

“For us, it has allowed the kids who are going to play on Friday night to get better without diminishing the confidence of the kids who are going to play on Monday afternoon.”

Brescia noted 7-on-7 scrimmages are productive as long as teaching trumps winning.

For the most part, the weekly, 10-team games played at Notre Dame High School are as educational as competitive. Sanity also reigned at Hopewell Valley and Montgomery events.

“When it becomes like a nuclear arms race,” Brescia said, “7-on-7 is not nearly as good.”

• Nottingham is using the weekly 7-on-7 drills at Notre Dame to work the kinks out of its new spread, pistol offense.

• Hamilton is introducing elements of the spread into its run-first offense.

• Montgomery is mimicking the UCLA offense and running a play every 12 seconds.

• Hopewell Valley is getting a feel for the new system installed by offensive coordinator Todd Smith.

• Northern Burlington goes to Shawnee to tangle with some of the Burlington County big boys while breaking in a new quarterback, fullback and receivers.

• Hightstown and Ewing have installed new defensive schemes.

• Trenton has a new head coach in Tarig Holman, who is evaluating players and installing packages under fire all while keeping his players football focused.

For those teams, the risks and gains of 7-on-7 scrimmages appear to make sense.

“For us, 7-on-7s are more about spacing and timing,” said Montgomery head coach Zoran Milich. “I just want to get guys involved, but I don’t want to burn our kids out, either. The only thing I don’t want to see is one of our kids getting beat by 30 yards on a play.

“There are some guys who are playing to win and not worrying about what they are going to do during the season. For us, it’s part of the evaluation process. It might get a kid on our radar screen, but you still aren’t going to separate the men from the boys until the pads go on.”

Edwards and WW-P South and Charlie Gallagher and Princeton are passing on 7-on-7 drills.

New Egypt will work out on its own. South Hunterdon went to one scrimmage.

“I hope our program reaches a point where we can just concentrate on one or two facets of the game,” said New Egypt head coach Luke Sinkhorn. “There are some coaches who go out to win 7-on-7 games. I don’t really care if I win one of those.

“Besides,” Sinkhorn added, “with our offense and the way we run the football, it would be a waste. We were in a 7-on-7 league at Southern Regional when Tom Farrell was head coach, and to be honest, it was pointless. I’d rather get our kids together and try and improve all aspects of the game.”

“We run the veer and we don’t get much out of a 7-on-7,” South Hunterdon head coach Toby Jefferis said in a text from Florida where he was on vacation. “It does help our defense.”

Bordentown High football head coach Steve Perry wanted to get involved in some 7-on-7 activities, but couldn’t work out logistics or come up with enough kids to participate. 

“To me, 7-on-7s can be beneficial, but not necessary,” Perry said. “I think it depends on your personnel. If you have a veteran group, success in 7-on7s can develop confidence headed into the season. But if you have a new quarterback and he throws 10 picks during 7-on-7s, his confidence is going to be shattered.”

“We’re going to run the triple option, and for us it’s more important to get the terminology down,” Gallagher said. “Going to a 7-on-7 may help you be a little further along when the season starts, but for us putting in two or three plays at a time and the kids understanding what we want is more important.

“We went 7-on-7 last year and went 2-8 and the year before and went 3-7. It’s not like 7-on-7s are going to determine what happens during the regular season.”

Gallagher said Sam Smallzman — the team’s middle linebacker — is the front-runner to start at quarterback.

“We’re going to put him in harm’s way,” Gallagher said with a chuckle.

He also said the Tigers have an up-and-coming sophomore quarterback named Dave Beamer.

“A gunslinger,” Gallagher said.

Bordentown is looking for a new quarterback, and 6-foot-2 junior Austin Pinkerton could the starter after serving as the back-up to Nick Bartolomei last season before suffering a shoulder injury.

“It would be good to get some reps, but I don’t believe 7-on-7 gives a team an advantage,” Perry said.

Edwards, who was the head coach at Hightstown from 2001-2004, wants to see his players in a less-pressurized environment.

“My education about my team is going to come from watching them work out,” Edwards said. “I want to see their agility, explosion, work ethic, and get an idea what the strength of each player is.

“I don’t want to see them playing in a shell defense. I guess I’m just an old dog.”

Interestingly, Gallagher and Edwards did not rule out joining a 7-on-7 group in Year 2 of their program building.

“I can’t say no,” Edwards said.

“We have a lot of younger guys in the program,” Gallagher said. “So maybe that’s something we’d think about.”

It has been suggested that some coaches put emphasis on 7-on-7 scrimmages because opponents do. If you don’t think Nottingham winning a sectional title last season has some coach doing more this summer, guess again.

“I don’t know of anybody in my league who doesn’t do it,” Milich said. “I think some guys out there simply don’t want to fall behind.”


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