Dalton Catamounts' ground game should be strong

Dalton quarterback Landon Allen (10) catches a snap during the Dalton vs. Ringgold football game Monday, August 20, 2018 at Harmon Field in Dalton, Georgia. Dalton won 42-24.

Head coach: Matt Land (71-32 in nine years here and overall)

Returning starters: 7 offensive; 6 defensive

Key players: FS Parker Adams (6-1, 165); QB Landon Allen (6-4, 207); OG Brant Bagley (5-11, 265); OT Osbaldo Beltran (6-7, 312) C Saul Espino (6-0, 272); RB Jahmyr Gibbs (5-11, 194); CB Malachi Gregory (5-9, 161); WR Hunter Noland (5-8, 160); OT Manny Vega (6-1, 298).

Team strengths: Gibbs, who accounted for 22 touchdowns and nearly 1,900 yards of offense as a junior last season and has committed to Georgia Tech, should make the Catamounts' ground game formidable. While Dalton missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2010, Land's first year in charge, this is an older group overall that will benefit from the experience of 2018.

photo Dalton's Landon Allen (10) drops back to pass against Ringgold during a GHSA football game at Harmon Field on Friday, Aug. 17, 2018 in Dalton, Ga.
photo Dalton quarterback, Landon Allen (10) shakes loose of Northwest's Bailey McQuaig (34). The Northwest Whitfield Bruins hosted the Dalton Catamounts in a North Georgia rivalry game on August 31, 2018.

Team concerns: Region 6 was among the best in Class AAAAAA last season, with its four playoff qualifiers sweeping in the first round, and that plus Dalton's geographical isolation in the league present challenges. With nine teams, it's also a big region, giving the Cats just two nonconference games to develop some much-needed depth.

Breakout candidates: With defenses focusing on Gibbs, there should be opportunities for others including Allen and Noland. On the other side of the ball, Dalton's secondary could be led by Adams, who has good vision and anticipation, and Gregory, whose quickness and tackling ability make him tough in man-to-man coverage. Both performed well in 7-on-7 competition, Land said.

Season outlook: Having some see a 6-4 season as a down year is a sign your program has set and achieved high standards over time, and the Cats - who last year lost three games in a row for the first time since 1989 - should bounce back quickly from their playoff absence.

One of the main reasons is an offensive line that knows what it's doing, thanks to the presence of seniors Bagley, Beltran, Espino and Vega. The group could pave the way to lots of yards and touchdowns and perhaps the team's fourth region title under Land's direction.

"Last year they had to grow up quick, and we kind of threw them to the wolves," Land said. "They were a little undersized, but they grew up a lot last year and certainly this year we anticipate a lot of leadership from them, and at some point in the season we look for those guys to be the strength of our offense."