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After losing three starters from last year’s offensive line, Holtville knew it needed to find some improvements during the summer and coach Jason Franklin said he is starting to see that with his new group of linemen. The Bulldogs traveled to Montgomery Academy on Thursday for their first OTAs of the summer and it was clear they held an advantage against their opponents in the trenches.

“I think our O-line has really started to improve and I think we’re getting better defensively too,” Franklin said. “We have a lot of young guys and they’ve still got to learn so this is a good deal for us to get a lot of quality reps. We got a lot of good stuff out of it today.”

Holtville joined Reeltown, New Brockton and Montgomery Academy for a morning filled with different drills for everyone on the team before finishing the day with 11-on-11 plays. The line got to participate in one-on-one blocking drills and the Bulldogs saw plenty of improvement before being put to the test during the team drills.

“Both of our interior lines are our strong points right now,” Franklin said. “I think our offensive line and defensive line have really improved. We’re starting to really go and our running backs have started to pick everything up now.”

Lane Batiski returns for Holtville and is expected to start at center for the Bulldogs. Lane Tally and Taylor Austin each got playing time last season and will fill in on the left side of the line while Malachi Shaw, Jacob Nichols and Dalton Reese have gotten work in on the right side.

Franklin said the team understands the importance of the offensive line and the offense’s success depends on how strong it is. There are still things he wants the linemen to improve on but he is happy with their progress with more than six weeks until the season opener.

“When we’re in our heavy sets and things like that, I think we’ve been running the football really well,” Franklin said. “Out of our 11 personnel, we’ve got to get better at holding blocks and running that outside zone game but we’re getting better. That’s just about getting reps against a quality defensive line.”

The offensive line also got its first look at pass protection this summer during Thursday’s 11-on-11 plays. Franklin said it is more about knowing assignments and schemes at this point in the summer so he knows it will not always be perfect. But that also gives an opportunity for the backs to pick up blocks when needed and for the quarterbacks to feel a little bit more pressure.

“The quarterbacks aren’t getting a really clean 7-on-7 pocket now so they have to learn how to move around in the pocket and do things under that pressure,” Franklin said. “I think Drake (Baker) had his best day today as far as moving and still making the throws to make something happen.”

While Baker and the rest of the starters got most of the work, the Bulldogs rotated all of their players in throughout the day to gain some experience for everyone. Franklin said they made sure to give a lot of young guys a chance to get on the field in a competitive atmosphere and he thinks it paid off.

“I think we got a little bit better today,” Franklin said. “We’re starting to get more aggressive as these things go on. Lifting, running, 7-on-7… all of those things are good but this is the ball is here between these two white lines so let’s see who’s the better man. This is how football is played.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.