SHIPROCK — The Shiprock football team's outcomes in 2016 were often one extreme or the other: the Chieftains sometimes defeated opponents handily, but got routed in other games.
Shiprock's more significant defeats, including its 49-16 4A playoff loss to Silver, exposed its difficulty in executing plays against tougher competition. To address those shortcomings, the Chieftains will return to fundamentals in the hope that a simpler approach will lead to bigger things in 2017.
On offense, Shiprock looks to have its wide receivers be more efficient in getting off the line of scrimmage, as well as better analyzing certain routes, matchups and other situations moving down the field.
"Our route running, it has to be very quick," junior wide receiver Tyris Newton said. "We're working on bursting off (the line). Our first three steps (are) the most important."
And with a younger unit up front this year, the offensive line looks to improve little things like maintaining the proper posture coming off the snap.
Junior offensive tackle Tyrell Benally said his fellow blockers are trying to be more productive in pushing defenders to the side to give the ball carriers more room to wreak havoc as they move through the lanes.
"That's all they need, just a little more space so they can make the play," Benally said.
On defense, the Chieftains look have their front four apply more pressure and fine tune their techniques such as making sure they are properly aligned.
The linebackers look to communicate better and read opposing offensive schemes, while the secondary is focused on improving hand-eye coordination and footwork.
"Practice makes perfect, so hopefully we can compete with these teams," senior outside linebacker/running back Quaid Shorty said.
Coach Eric Stovall said nailing down those fundamentals will help his squad open up the playbook more on offense and give his players more flexibility with their coverage schemes on defense.
"If you're working together to get it accomplished the right way, then the results are going to be positive," Stovall said.
Key returners include Newton, Benally, Shorty, senior fullback/linebacker Brandon Lapahe and senior punter/linebacker Guy Lee.
Shiprock (7-4 last year, 3-0 in District 1-4A) opens the season 7 p.m. Friday at home against Red Mesa, Ariz.
"We're not satisfied with just making the playoffs this year. We want to go as deep into the playoffs as we can and represent our school with a lot of pride," Stovall said.
Navajo Prep and Newcomb to clash again
The Eagles will host the Skyhawks at 7 p.m. Friday. The two sides last squared off on Oct. 30, 2015, with Navajo Prep posting a 47-6 victory before the Eagles moved up to 4A.
Navajo Prep (4-6 last year, 2-1 in District 1-4A) looks to return to postseason action after missing the playoffs in 2016, while Newcomb (7-4, 2-1 in District 1-3A) eyes back-to-back playoff appearances.
Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.