Dragons Return Plenty of Experience, With Some Questions
By Troy Phillips
Photos by Ron Jenkins
Good teams generally utilize good mixes of new and experienced, but Carroll often manages to lean heavily in the middle. Younger talent is moved up the roster quickly, with quick returns. This season, the wide receiver spot is experienced and deep, quarterback is well-tested, and running back is like a birthday present waiting to be opened.
As usual, the offense sparks excited optimism, and the defense appears set to unload after plugging in nine new starters a year ago. The offensive linemen and tight end are big, tall and talented, and the defense racked up a combined 11 interceptions, 56 sacks and 75 tackles for losses last season. Lead running back, kicker and the secondary could go through some growing pains. Eventually, chances are Carroll will call the right numbers.
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Quarterback: Graham Knowles
Running back: James Lehman
Wide receivers: Jacob Jordan, Clayton Wayland, Caden Jackson, Brock Boyd
Offensive linemen: Andrew Cunningham, Harrison Moore, Trent Wilson
Tight end: Jack VanDorselaer
A good problem is still a problem, and Carroll probably has one at running back. In eight games last season, Lehman — now a senior — had 516 yards, six touchdowns rushing, and three more receiving as Owen Allen’s backup. The Dragons expected to get some help running the ball from a potential transfer, but a decision by the UIL ruling him ineligible has limited coach Riley Dodge’s options.
Oklahoma commit Jordan expects to be Carroll’s monster offensive performer after a 67-catch, 16-touchdown campaign in 2022. Now 6-foot-7, Knowles appeared in 13 games but took over after Week 6. Book it: Knowles and Jordan will decimate opponents. Wayland (35 catches) and Jackson (41) only deepen a wide receiver room that includes sophomore-to-watch Boyd.
Senior Cunningham (6-4, 280), former tight end Moore, and Wilson figure to lead a group that again wears down defenses by halftime. Split wide or lined up tight, VanDorselaer will be in a more solo role at tight end after sharing the position in 2022. Cunningham (Charlotte) and Moore (Vanderbilt) are committed for 2024.
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Defensive linemen: Dustan Mark, Zac Scarborough, Wyatt Duffy
Linebacker/safety: Aaron Scherp
Defensive backs: Carter High, Eric Garza
Mark, Duffy and Scarborough had a combined 20 sacks last season, and Scherp tossed in five from a popular hybrid prep position that he mastered as well as anyone in Texas. Of High’s 56 tackles, 36 were solo.
As for tackles behind the line, Mark, Scherp and Scarborough teamed for 25. Perhaps it’s fair to say that Carroll’s defense has an acceptable level of aggression covered. Its leader, Mark, doesn’t lack in the intellectual department, either; he’s headed to Princeton.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYERS TO WATCH
Kicker/punter: Kyle Lemmermann
Punt returner: Jacob Jordan
Kickoff returner: Caden Jackson
Lemmermann’s camp-circuit work vaulted him to near or the top of many Class of ’24 kicker lists, and he committed to TCU. Backing up current Texas A&M freshman Tyler White, Lemmermann had only six points last season, making 6-of-6 PATs. He should handle punting duties, also.
Jordan averaged 11.3 yards on eight punt returns and had an 80-yard kickoff return among only four attempts. Jackson, Lehman or others could end up in the mix, but Carroll had no touchdowns on kickoff or punt returns in 2022. Jordan’s participation could be limited, but special teams scoring is an area Carroll would like to improve.