Year two on the turf will help New Haven and second year coach Jimmy Linn increase speed and overall threat, but the Bulldogs will have to alter their offense in the process. Gone to graduation are all 1,911 passing yards and 983-of-1,048 rushing yards from the 2018 season.

So too, hope the Bulldogs, are a laundry list of lingering injuries that hampered them during a 5-6 season. All-purpose twins Jamarr and Lamarr Hutchins return after playing just three and four games respectively as juniors. Both can contribute running the ball and as pass catchers, areas that clearly need new talent. Look for Nijae Fields-Lewis to play a big role on the receiving end as the second top returning pass catcher a year ago with 157 yards on 15 receptions. He will be joined by Lane Woodson, who worked strong to perfect his route running in the offseason says Linn. The Hutchins brothers meanwhile kept pace in 2018 with 122 yards for Jamarr and 165 yards for Lamarr despite the limited playing time.

“They will start both sides of the football for us,” Linn said. “They are dynamic. When they are on the field offensively, they will both be our slots. Having them on the football field is going to make us so much better.”

The quarterback position will be a mystery for the first time in a while for the Bulldogs. A year ago, Jamarr Hutchins and Jakar Williams each took a couple of snaps, resulting in zero combined completions and two combined interceptions. Williams, a sophomore, is a long 6-foot-3 and had a stellar 2018 season on lower levels. Linn sees him as a frontrunner early, but Hutchins brings a lot to the table as well.

“He creates plays outside of the pocket,” Linn said of Hutchins. “He is going to play some quarterback at some point or another. We need to get him touches, he is a dynamic player. We would have had that package in last year but he broke his leg the second week.”

Senior Josh Grigsby will return for his third year as a starter on the offensive line as a tackle, where he was All-Conference Honorable Mention in 2018. He is a huge part in opening up a running game that Linn thinks will thrive behind the o-line that lost just one starter. Junior Stephan Poiry and senior Josh Salinas will also be impact returners on the offensive line.

D’Andre Wright and Jarrell Jackson will be the two guys getting major reps in the backfield. Wright was a star linebacker a year ago and will play on both sides of the ball this year while Jackson, a sophomore, will share time with him in the backfield as they replace the graduated Stephen Owens.

Linn’s specialty has always been on the defensive side of the ball where he earned his stripes before taking over as the head coach last season. He will get to start out this season with seven players who tallied double digit tackles last season, led by Wright (88 total tackles, 61 solo) and senior Dasean Morgan (55 total tackles, 35 solo). Grigsby (33 tackles, two sacks) and Fields-Lewis (22 tackles, two interceptions) will play both ways and have a defensive impact. In 2018, they were both All-Northeast 8 second team with Grigsby at defensive end and Fields-Lewis at cornerback. Senior Dylan Caudill (28 tackles) could also be an important piece to the puzzle at safety.

Increased roles for Isaac Carswell, Raymond Britt and Skylar Clark will also be expected.

“Up front, our starting line will be the same we started last year,” Linn said. “We are going to be pretty good defensively, at least that is what we are thinking going in.”

WHY #12?

New Haven is very athletic on both sides of the ball with guys who can change the game playing two ways. Depth should allow them to keep those guys fresh and that helps. To have experienced guys like Jamarr Hutchins, D’Andre Wright and Josh Grigsby playing both ways allows to them to be true leaders for a team that has to replace their 2018 leadership. It will also allow those leaders to control and dictate pace and energy in multiple facets.

WHY NOT HIGHER?

The Bulldogs have a lot to prove in getting going this season. Returns from injuries? Sure. A lot of new guys filling critical roles offensively? That is the biggest reason. If the defense does their job, they are more advanced right now than the offense but the offense will still have to produce points in this crazy conference. Once they can consistently do that, New Haven jumps to the front of conference contenders.

But it takes starting faster and stronger than they did a year ago.

CRITICAL GAME

September 13 at Leo

No matter how the Northeast 8 opener goes down the Friday prior, this is a game that will be considered must win for New Haven. EACS rivalry, conference rivalry, purple rivalry…no matter how you sell it, a win over Leo is a strong bragging right always for New Haven. To go there and win on the Lions’ turf would be a huge momentum boost to send New Haven into the second half of the season and silence any critics.

“It is getting way more competitive year in and year out,” Linn said of the NE8. “I see that trend being the same. Coming in to every season, we are at the point where we are going to put ourselves in the position to compete for a title and that is where I think we are at.”

PLAYER TO WATCH

Jamarr Hutchins, senior All-purpose player

Everything you need to know, it says in the position above. Hutchins can do a little bit of everything. Throw the ball, run the ball, catch the ball, play defense. There is a lot of grit into how he plays the game and Hutchins certainly has the chance to emerge as one of the breakout players during his senior year. It is something that many expected during his junior year before injuries cut those hopes off at the knees. Hutchins is a playmaker and capable of being involved almost every time the ball is snapped.

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