Spartans look to ‘clean up’ game ahead of visit to Ottawa

Author of the article:Ben Leeson | The Sudbury Star
Published Jun 23, 2023

Head coach Junior Labrosse said it will take a total team effort, however, and not the performance of any one man, if the Sudbury squad hopes to find its form down the stretch and make playoffs.

“Offence showed up in the third quarter last week, same with the defence,” said Labrosse, close to the start of a practice Wednesday night. “We just need four quarters of football from the team. When we play teams we know can put points on the board, we can’t have the defence on the field all the time, but we also missed a lot of opportunities. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot with offsides, procedures, dropped balls — I might have counted five of those and you take those away, it could be a touchdown, could be a first down, could be a swing in the game. If we can clean up that stuff, the snowball will stop.”

Dropped passes aside, the Spartans’ passing game has shown real promise at times, with Victor Paajanen accounting for 142 yards receiving and two TDs and Tyler Bell 126 yards, with the likes of Adam Pagan and Nicolson Christmas also making timely catches. But their impact has been blunted, Labrosse said, by a running game that has yet to hit its stride.

Last weekend, for example, Christmas was Sudbury’s second leading rusher with 40 yards on nine carries and only two others, Buchi Tabele and Brandon Salem, hit double digits, the latter punching his way into the end zone.

“If you can move the ball, you keep the offence on, whether it’s the pass or the run game, but the run game has been very inconsistent,” Sudbury’s coach said. “When your leading rusher is your quarterback, that’s not a good thing.

“You’re looking at a lot of three and outs. You’ve got to be able to sustain drives. In the running backs’ defence, they say the holes are not there, but we see holes. You’re choosing not to take them, for whatever reason. That aspect of the game needs to be cleaned up.”

Offensive tackle Jordan Fryer, who has helped to open those holes and to give Rideout the time to make his passes, expressed his appreciation for the defence and its solid performance as Sudbury opened the schedule with back-to-back losses to the Sault Steelers. He was encouraged to see the offence respond last week, even if it was “a little too late.”

“I think guys need to come out firing from the first whistle to the last whistle,” Fryer said. “We need to go out, bow our necks and play hard. Us boys in the trenches, we’ve got to hold our blocks, maintain our blocks and give our running backs time to get to where they need to be. Receivers need to keep their heads up, keep them on a swivel, and our DBs need to work as hard as they’ve been doing, but last week, there was a couple of things they missed that hopefully, we can polish up at practice.”

Labrosse pointed to a lack of defensive backs at practice sessions last week as a key factor in the game against North Bay, which saw Hec Crighton winner Jordan Heather rack up 271 passing yards and three TDs in the air.

He wasn’t overly enthused with the turnout on Wednesday, either, but noted there were more DBs in attendance.

“Coaches can only coach the amount of players who are here,” Labrosse said. “When you have half your DBs, no DBs all week at practice, how can you scheme against a quarterback who’s passing? That needs to change. I understand some guys have to work and stuff like this, but when you have half the team not here, it’s like, how much do you want to play?”

Fryer voiced similar concerns, having noted the team was still working to build chemistry at some positions at the midway mark of the season, though he’s optimistic those concerns can still be addressed.

“It’s hard to implement and install things when you don’t have people there,” he said. “I appreciate all the guys who come out and the guys who step in at positions they have never played, just so we can install that stuff, but when it comes game time, the players who are actually on the field have no idea what we have installed. It limits our playbook offensively and when it comes to the defence, it’s the same, I’m sure, when they’re trying to call their coverages and prepare for the games, they don’t have the players out to actually practice what they’re going to see.

“It becomes a little bit of a difficult situation.”

No matter who is taking snaps on Saturday, Fryer plans to give him space to lead the team.

“I tell my quarterbacks every game, if you let me know what you need and if you have any problems with anything on the offensive line, you let me know,” Fryer said. “I’ll take care of it and I’ll make the adjustments.”

Saturday’s game at Minto Field in Ottawa kicks off at 7 p.m.

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