Ridgeland's offensive line should be a strength

Staff photo / Ridgeland's Jeremiah Turner (35) celebrates an interception during a home game against Northwest Whitfield on Oct. 4, 2019.

RIDGELAND PANTHERS

Head coach: Kip Klein (5-6 in one year here and overall)

Returning starters: 6 offensive; 7 defensive

Key players: OL Dylan Skates (6-0, 295); OL Tommy Lamb (6-5, 280); OL Kyle Brown (6-1, 235); OL Jacob Klein (6-6, 305); WR/DB King Mason (6-1, 175); FB/DE Jeremiah Turner (6-1, 220); DL Ashton Turner (5-11, 225).

Team strengths: Last year was nearly a total rebuild of the offensive line, and the Panthers struggled early before the unit came together; this year the team should reap the rewards of staying with them. Another benefit this year is the addition of transfer receivers Kesean Eubanks (5-11, 172) from Soddy-Daisy and Henry Ellis (6-5, 190) from Gordon Lee.

Team concerns: The Panthers in Coach Klein's second season are expected to battle region newcomer Cedartown for the league title, but much will be expected of sophomore QB Chase Watkins, who was forced into action last year due to injury.

Breakout candidate: Klein would prefer not to play anyone both ways, but he has no choice with Mason, who is one of the best athletes in the greater Chattanooga area. The senior is a ball hawk in the secondary and is in competition for playing time at quarterback.

Season outlook: The 2019 season was one of survival for the Panthers, but lessons learned should pay dividends this year, Klein said. After a 1-5 start in which his team twice gave up 60-plus points, Klein simplified the schemes - and the Panthers regrouped to win four consecutive games and the Region 6-AAAA championship.

"We are a much more mature team this year," the coach said. "There were areas last year where we had good plans, but we just had a hard time implementing them. That won't be a problem this year."

It helps that the strength of the team lies in its offensive line, an area of concern early last season. With Skates, Lamb, Brown and Klein's son Jacob all returning - and each adding size and strength - the ground game should return to being dominant even with the graduation of backs Jordan Blackwell and Terrence and Torrance Roberts.

It also helps to have Eubanks, who will also play some in the backfield, in the fold. He had 891 yards and 14 touchdowns receiving for the Trojans last year, and with fellow transfer Ellis, he will help form a scary receiving corps.

The most important player, however, may be Jeremiah Turner, who will play fullback and be the anchor of the defensive line.

photo Staff photo / Ridgeland's King Mason is part of a talented group of receivers the Panthers will count on in Kip Klein's second season as coach.