SOLON — Solon football coach Kevin Miller’s offense is going to look a little different this season.
The Spartans graduated quarterback Blayze Griffs and tight end Jacob Coons, who now plays at Iowa. After more than a week of practices, Miller still hasn’t settled on a starting quarterback, working through three different players.
But there are two staples in his offense that remain the same, and that likely will help the offense keep moving in the right direction when the Spartans travel to Mount Vernon for their season opener.
Senior Tyler Linderbaum, who is a three-year starter, is the biggest player Solon returns and will lead an offensive line that Miller expects to hold the offense together amid some changes elsewhere.
“We’ve got three starters back (on the offensive line), that’s a good place to start,” Miller said. “Obviously with Tyler, and I think we have some other capable people. I think we’re a little bit bigger than we were in the past. I think we’ve got more physical size, and that lends itself to some of the things we want to do. ... I think we’ve got seven, eight guys that can compete, I really do.”
Watch: Tyler Linderbaum highlights
Linderbaum, who is a three-star defensive line recruit according to 247Sports, committed to play at Iowa next fall over offers from Iowa State and Minnesota. According to 247Sports, Linderbaum is the No. 5 recruit in the state and No. 73 nationally as a defensive tackle.
The impact Linderbaum has on the offensive and defensive line, Miller said, is tremendous.
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“Obviously he’s a difference maker, without a doubt,” Miller said. “He’s 30, 40 pounds bigger than what he was last year. He’s just an athlete that plays offensive and defensive line. Being a wrestler, he understands leverage, how to use his hands. He’s got real great feet. But at the end of the day, he’s just a real good athlete. He’s tough, he’s hard nosed, and I’m just glad he’s on our team.”
The second key player returning on the Solon offense is running back Kendrick Harris. Harris ran for 883 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, and put up four touchdowns and nearly 200 yards against Oskaloosa last fall.
“He’s played varsity for two years now, this’ll be his third year,” Miller said. “He’s a guy that certainly is capable and we’re pretty excited about, ... He’s a hard runner. He can run a variety of different schemes at the tailback position. We’re pretty excited. That’s a good place to start when you have your tailback back, and then you have some experienced, seasoned lineman, so that’s kind of where we’ll start.”
As for his quarterback battle, Miller isn’t too stressed about locking down a starter right away. He’d rather wait for the right quarterback to separate himself from the pack. He doesn’t want to rush that process, either, and, with an experienced line and Harris returning, Miller won’t have to rely on his quarterback as heavily as they have in the past.
So until that time, the Spartans will continue to rotate players through that position. It’s a process, he said, and he likes where it’s headed.
“I think we’ve got some guys that can definitely play quarterback and with different packages,” Miller said. “We’ve got a couple that are good runners. We’ve got one that can throw it a little bit. We’re just looking for a guy that can really handle the decision-making that is required at the quarterback position and not hurt our offense. Be a game manager, distribute the football, put guys in positions to make plays, that’s really what we’re looking at. I’m pretty optimistic.”
Solon, at a glance
Coach: Kevin Miller (17th year, 158-32)
Last year: 9-3 (Class 3A District 5 champion, lost in playoff quarterfinals)
Top returning letterwinners: OL/DL Tyler Linderbaum, RB Kendrick Harris
Key losses: TE Jacob Coons, LB/RB Trevor Nelson, WR/DB Graeson Dall, OL/DL Justin Gibbs, RB/LB Bo Black, WR Grant Goldsberry, WR/DB Austin Kennedy, QB Blayze Griffis
Key to making playoffs: Solon needs to find a quarterback that it can trust, and can fill Griffis’ shoes. Linderbaum will have to lead an offensive line strong enough to protect whoever ends up being Solon’s starting quarterback, who will be fairly inexperienced.
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Games to watch: The Spartans have a tough schedule on the front end. They start out on the road against a tough Mount Vernon team that fell just shy of the Class 2A state title game last season. Then, they turn around to host Iowa City Regina, a rivalry that hasn’t disappointed in the past several years.
Aug. 25 — at Mount Vernon
Sept. 1 — Iowa City Regina
Sept. 8 — at Keokuk
Sept. 15 — Washington
Sept. 22 — at Oskaloosa
Sept. 29 — Fort Madison
Oct. 6 — at Mount Pleasant
Oct. 13 — West Burlington
Oct. 20 — Fairfield
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