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Cowboys loaded with experienced skill players, still need to replace last year's offensive and defensive lines

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Kaden Horton, #16, carries the ball for a big gain during the Cowboys Blue & Gold Scrimmage last Saturday night, while Lonnie Belz, #55, heads downfield to look for someone to block. The Cowboys return most of their skill people from last year, however, have virtually an entirely new offensive and defensive line.If Saturday night's Blue & Gold Scrimmage is any indication, the 2019 Crook County High School football season could be exciting.

"We still have some stuff that we have to clean up, being the first week of practice," Cowboys head coach Ryan Cochran said following the scrimmage. "We still have a lot of rough spots that we are trying to clean up, but the effort was there."

The Cowboys starting offense was able to move the ball at will against the team's second team defense, scoring on every possession during the brief scrimmage.

Meanwhile, when the starting defense took the field, the second string offense was unable to move the ball consistently.

The Cowboys return most of their skill people from a squad that finished last season with a 3-5 record, however, they will need to replace virtually the entire offensive and defensive line.

"Our line up front opened up some holes tonight, which was good," Cochran said. "We are going to be a team that has a lot of depth in our skill areas and our big guys are developing. We lost our big guys from last year, but there are some guys that are progressing really well. We are going to continue to keep pushing them. They are a big part of our football team. As you know, you only go as far as your line goes."

Those skill people include quarterback, Brody Connell, running backs Kyle Knudtson, Kaden Horton and Clayton Berman, and wide receivers Garett Bernard and Ethan Cossett, all of whom showed speed Saturday night.

And, speed is something that Cochran thinks the team can exploit.

"I think it's going to be a team that can fly," he said. "They are going to use their speed to their advantage. We are going to be up-tempo and move things quickly. That's the football team that we want to be, a tenacious, go-after-it type of team."

In addition to showing a strong running game on Saturday, the Cowboys also showed that they may be able to throw the ball more effectively than they did a year ago.

The team ran a seven-on-seven passing drill prior to the actual scrimmage, which showed that the team has several receivers with good hands.

"We have definitely been working on being able to throw the ball in different situations, and it's progressing," Cochran said. "We are still trying to get better at it, but we can throw the ball a little bit and I think that our offense is going to be more balanced this year."

The Cowboys are down a little bit in numbers from a year ago.

Last year, the Cowboys were able to field three teams, varsity, JV, and freshmen. This year, there is a solid turnout of freshmen, but so far the team is short of upperclassmen.

There are currently just 11 seniors on the roster. However, Cochran said that he expects to see more players come out starting this week.

"Football is a numbers game and we are always wanting more," he said. "Our numbers are not where we want them to be, but right now we have two solid teams, and the guys that are here are working extremely hard and I'm proud of them."

Cochran added that he believes that work ethic will be the trademark of this team.

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Kyle Knudtson makes a one handed grab during a seven-on-seven drill during Saturday evening's Blue & Gold Scrimmage. Knudtson is one of three Cowboy running backs with significant varsity experience. "Out of all of the groups that we have had, this is the group that has really bought in and they are really buying into the process of improving every day," he said. "Right now, we are not focusing on those long term goals, we are focusing on those things right in front of us — the things that we can control. We talk about that a lot. Sometimes we can't control those things that are way out, so we have purposely not focused on a big goal. We are purposely focusing on controlling the things that you can control one step at a time and believing in the process and the core values of being that blue collar team."

He added that the team is getting quality leadership from their seniors, including starting drills on their own if the coaches happen to be in a meeting.

"Our seniors have really stepped into that role," Cochran said. "Last year's seniors helped out these guys and showed them how to roll in leadership. They are taking command on the field and they are running things."

The Cowboys start their season this Friday with a jamboree that begins at 5 p.m. at Redmond High School.

The team will then open the season on Friday, Sept. 6 with a 7 p.m. game against Ridgeview at Ward Rhoden Stadium in Prineville and Cochran believes that the team will be ready.

"We still have a lot of rough spots that we are trying to clean up and some things to insert," he said. "We don't have nearly all of our plays in yet, but the ones that we have, we are progressing and I think that we will be ready. We are just going to keep working hard and trying to improve every day."

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