Raiders take new look to Spiegelberg

After a recent trip to Eugene to watch the Oregon Ducks practice, Craig Howard was so impressed that he called his head coaches and made them wake up at 5:30 a.m. the next day in order to see the Ducks for themselves.

Oregon's speed, it's precision, it's attention to detail represents everything Howard, Southern Oregon's new head football coach, wants the Raiders to become.

"We're trying to duplicate it," he said.

The Raiders' latest attempt to crank up the velocity in front of a live audience comes Friday night at Spiegelberg Stadium in Medford, where SOU will hold its second and final spring scrimmage starting at 7 p.m. The scrimmage will be preceded by a free football clinic, starting at 6 p.m., for kids ages 6 through 13. It's all part of Howard's ongoing effort to reach out to the community — SOU went through the same drill last week at Grants Pass — and improve SOU's credibility throughout the Rogue Valley.

"It's a chance to show Medford fans our new offense and defense," Howard said.

Though Howard likes to talk about the Raiders' aggressive new defense, it's his spread option, no huddle offense that may leave opponents (and fans) gasping for air. Modeled after Howard's record-setting Florida high school teams, the Raiders plan to push the tempo from the first snap to the final whistle.

The change of pace will be extreme, considering that the coach Howard replaced in February, Steve Helminiak, brought an old school philosophy to Ashland anchored on controlling the line of scrimmage and winning the time of possession battle.

Working the clock may be a punishable offense under Howard, who boasts that the Raiders will run three plays per minute.

"It's all no huddle, it's all shotgun and it's all fast," he said.

In such a system, much depends on the quarterback, and SOU currently has five battling for playing time. Already, frontrunners have emerged, and coincidentally the top two are names that local football fans will probably recognize.

Gaining the early edge in the battle to become the Raiders' next starting quarterback, says Howard, is former Phoenix High star Chris Kammel. And not far behind Kammel is former South Medford High standout AJ Palazzolo.

Kammel, who will be a sophomore next season, took over for struggling starter Paul Sweeney late in 2010 and quickly showed promise, completing 25 of 38 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns in SOU's season-ending loss to Northwestern Oklahoma State. Listed at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, Kammel is a good-sized small college quarterback who's also quick on his feet, a necessary quality in Howard's system. He didn't hurt his chances to earn the job at Grants Pass, completing 14 of 20 passes, including two for touchdowns (the Raiders scored seven TDs in all).

"He seems to absorb and execute a little more consistently in both the running game and the passing game," Howard said of Kammel.

Howard quickly added that Palazzolo is also playing well in practice and described the competition as "about equal right now."

Sweeney, transfer Matt Atkins and former Raiders starter Mike McDonald are also vying for playing time at quarterback. Atkins has been a pleasant surprise. He completed 5 of 5 passes with two touchdowns in the Grants Pass scrimmage.

Howard was vague when asked to describe the format of Friday's scrimmage, but did say it would include referees, goal-line situations and a simulated overtime session. It will last an hour to an hour and a half.

The goal, Howard said, was to put the players in game-like situations and see how they react. With playing time potentially up for grabs, the competition could be fierce.

"We've thrown a lot at them," he said. "Whether they've absorbed it all, that's why we scrimmage. ... We're trying to find out who the best players are. We're trying to put this jigsaw puzzle together.

"You don't want sloppiness. You can't just have speed and no quality — they've got to know how to execute, so that's why these (scrimmages) are so important, so we can see them in more pressure-packed situations."

Friday's scrimmage is SOU final dress rehearsal before the Red and Black Spring Game, May 6 at Raider Stadium.

Share This Story