Cleveland’s season didn’t get started out the way many had expected it to, with the Raiders being dealt a 20-point loss at the hands of McCallie.
Despite the less than ideal start, Raiders head coach Ron Crawford isn’t ready to hit the panic button.
“The one thing you don’t do is panic. There is nothing wrong with what we’re doing schematically, we’ve just go to be better fundamentally than we were. I don’t think one game in itself makes anything,” Crawford explained. “We’re not discouraged at all, we’re encouraged. We believe that we’re a better team than we showed last Friday night.”
While the offensive line was alive and well in their home opener, Cleveland’s defense was seemingly MIA.
“Defense was bad, there’s no doubt about it. Everyone has a responsibility and an assignment [and] we obviously didn’t execute those. If we’re not executing then we have to go back, re-evaluate and teach it better,” Crawford stated. “We’ve got two linebackers playing defensive end that are undersized guys, so we’re trying to fit our defense for our personnel and are a little bit behind. We’ve got to get more physical and it’s got to be a whole change of our culture. It’s going to take time.”
The coaching staff is continually evaluating the team’s needs and according to Crawford, still shuffling things around to make sure the right guys are out on the field.
The coach said possible lineup changes have been discussed. “There are some positions that are open for some other kids to get opportunities,” Crawford said.
The Raiders still need help at cornerback and need to find a viable third defensive end.
Offensively Cleveland is solid, but Crawford still sees areas that require some improvement.
“I think we can score points on anybody — That’s where our most experienced players are. Our return game has to be more solid, but we have a chance to be great in our kick return game,” Crawford commented. “With Austin (Herink) and the receivers that we have, we’re a vertical passing team. We hit a great percentage of those throws. We have to push our offensive line, which did a great job at pass protection, to be more physical and assert themselves more in the running game. We’re still not running the ball like we want to.”
Just this week, Cleveland was ranked seventh in the Tennessee Press Top 10 poll for Division 5A.
“It doesn’t mean anything; we’re 0-1. It’s great that people think something of our program, but we’re just going to try to get better this week. We can’t lose focus,” Crawford commented. “We’re in this for the long haul and nobody said that it would be easy. We’ve got a lot of kids that have to play both ways, so we’re at a stage in our program where we have to continue to build depth, push weight training and continue to coach them better. We’re just looking to get better in every phase.”
As the Raiders prepare to make the two-hour trek north to Cookeville for Friday evening’s game, they are not entirely sure what to expect out of the Cavaliers.
For their season opener, 6-AAA Cookeville dominated the 7-A Monterey Wildcats with a 54-6 victory.
“They played a bad class A team, so what’s difficult for us is knowing what to prepare for. They had 25 plays — it went to a running clock. We’re still not real sure what they are and what they can do. We’ve got some scrimmage [scouting material] stuff on them, but that’s about it. It will be a game that could go either way,” Crawford said.
What Crawford does know is that in this cross-regional matchup both teams have guys playing on both sides of the ball.
“They have some skill players, more than I would probably attribute to Cookeville in their history,” Crawford stated. “Many of their guys are like ours, and a lot of their skill guys are like ours and go both ways. I think it will be a great matchup.”
While there are still a number of unknowns going into Friday night, coach Crawford fully expects his Raiders to meet up with the Cavaliers as a better team.
“We’ve got another opportunity Friday night to play a football game,” Crawford said. “If I’ve taught them anything, then we’ve had a week to get better and have the opportunity for success on Friday.”
Friday’s kickoff will be at 8 p.m. in Cookeville.