published Monday, April 16th, 2012

Chattanooga Generals prepare for first game

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    Gary Orr passes during a practice for the Chattanooga Generals at Camp Jordan Park in East Ridge. The Generals are a new arena football team preparing for their first game on Saturday.
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The Chattanooga Generals are five and a half days away from their first game, facing the Chattahoochee Valley Vipers at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Camp Jordan Arena.

The Vipers are an outdoor team playing a handful of indoor road games this spring. After visiting the Generals, who are affiliate members of American Indoor Football, the Vipers will play three United Indoor Football League teams.

After the Generals' practice outdoors Saturday at Camp Jordan Park, coach Rick Butler said he was happy with his team's talent level. But it's been a quick construction project for him and fellow assistant general manager and co-personnel director Clint Spencer, who's an assistant coach.

"Clint and I and the owner [Andre White of Atlanta] have put together in three weeks a team we believe can be competitive athleticially," Butler said. "We're going to hit people; we're going to run people down and make plays. But we're three weeks to a month behind everybody [in the AIF], so the execution offensively is going to be an issue -- everything from formations to snap count."

"We've had 10 practices. It's going to take time for us to mesh and mold," Butler added. "At all levels of football it would take time for a brand new group to mesh their execution, and we've got some first-time arena players."

Some of the players have professional experience, though -- some even on Arena 1 rosters, he said.

The roster includes Derek Watson, a former South Carolina and Canadian Football League running back. He's now over 30, but one of the Generals' linemen is Hawaii native Eddie Williams, a UCLA stalwart in 2009 and 2010.

One of those with no pro background is quarterback Gary Orr from Soddy-Daisy, who started collegiately for Austin Peay.

"He's a great kid. He's a good competitor and he's smart," Butler said.

Orr said the Generals have made great progress in a short time.

"We've come a long way. We're coming together as a team, and we're hanging out as a team," he said. "And we have enough good athletes that for the most part we can two-platoon. Our goal is to go 7-0 and make the playoffs."

Butler has confirmed that the AIF has extended that "carrot" as a possibility for the Generals, who in the original plan were an exhibition team for this year with a full schedule to come in 2013.

Teams can have 22 players, but the active roster is 18 with eight in a game at a time. More liberalized indoor rules do allow freer substitution than in the past, but some receivers still may double up as defensive backs and vice versa, and linemen and fullbacks or linebackers might have to play both ways at times as well.

Ray Cheatham, 25, is a defensive back who played for Kansas State. A KSU teammate connected him to Spencer a few years ago, he said, and that led to this opportunity -- his first shot at arena play.

"I feel like everybody is coming together and everybody's got a positive attitude," Cheatham said.

Former area all-state high school players Lee Hilt from McCallie at receiver and Montez Davis from Cleveland at defensive back also were active in the skill-position players' part of practice Saturday morning. Another receiver was C.J. Dial from Central, a Tennessee Crush standout in recent years.

Hilt, for one, has been a pleasant surprise, Butler noted.

"He has been making great strides. He's a sharp route runner with sure hands," the coach said.

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