By TONY EIERDAM
The big question heading into the 2013 season for the Mineral Wells Rams’ coaching staff is what to do with junior linebacker/running back Josh Hardee.
Hardee, who as a sophomore last year was a newcomer to the varsity, led the team in tackles from his inside linebacker position. Hardy also got to see some time at running back, where although not possessing sprinter speed he still showed flashes of brilliance with four touchdowns on 27 carries and a whopping 10.2 yards per carry average.
But Hardy also led the Rams on defense with 93 tackles, 67 of which were unassisted. The question coming into the season, which begins with the first practice of the year at 6 a.m. Monday at Ram Stadium, was whether to shore up the offense with Hardee at running back to take pressure off junior starting quarterback Caleb Acosta and the MWHS passing game.
That move would take away the team’s leading tackler and reduce him to a part time role on defense – for now.
It would be easy to make Hardee play both ways, but with the Rams showing depth at linebacker and not as much at running back, Rams head coach Chuck Lawrence has made a decision.
“We have to have Josh tote the mail,” Lawrence said. “He is our best ball carrier. If our offense is going to have the running threat that we need in order to throw the football – to be balanced – we have to have him back there running the football.
“Yes, he is probably our best defensive player. But, we feel like that we’ve got players who can step in at the linebacker position better than we have players who can step into the running back position.
“Again at that running back position, when you look at Gilbert Castorena the last three years and what he did for us, we think Josh can do the same thing.”
Lawrence said at least during the first five games of the season – the non-district portion of the schedule – Hardee will start at running back and have spot duty on defense and in certain defensive situations.
“Are we going to eliminate Josh from defense? No. But, his primary focus will be at running back. We do plan to spot-play Josh defensively as we need him,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence was asked if he had thought about just starting Hardy on both offense and defense.
“Yes, it was discussed,” Lawrence said. “We have indeed looked at it. But he is so valuable to our offense that we would be taking a huge risk playing him both ways. Especially when you consider the end of a ball game when he would start getting tired.
“Hopefully, we will be smart about it, and we will take a look at it as the season progresses. But especially early in the non-district portion of the season when the games really don’t count (toward a playoff spot) there is not any sense in him going both ways.
“All players these days are bigger, stronger and faster than in the past. And a player probably would not be as effective late in the game if he never left the field. Also, there is a greater risk of injury to someone who plays both ways, especially late in a game.
“But early in the season we can’t justify that risk by playing Josh both ways. He will start off as our starting running back and play in specific situations on defense.
“We talked about how we were going to use Josh as a staff, and we agree upon it as a staff. How the season goes will dictate any changes in that, but this is how we are going to start the season.”
The Rams open the 2013 season on Friday, Aug. 30, at home against state-ranked No. 9 Graham.