Corona del Mar High senior receiver Brent Gray is dangerous after the catch and has the ability to be a deep threat.

Corona del Mar High senior receiver Brent Gray is dangerous after the catch and has the ability to be a deep threat. (Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot)

CORONA DEL MAR — Jason Hitchens likes to say the defense is always ahead of the offense at this point of the high school football season.

He hopes to see the offense leap past the defense on Friday night.

When the Sea Kings open the season against Savanna at Newport Harbor High at 7, they are looking to end a five-game skid. CdM did not finish ahead of anyone in its final five games last season.

The offense was futile down the stretch. Plenty of factors contributed to the Sea Kings putting up zeroes twice and finishing Pacific Coast League play averaging 12.2 points per game, and losing every league game.

Erratic quarterback play. Too many players going both ways. The defense's inability to stop anyone.

The Sea Kings enter the season with an inexperienced quarterback for the third time under Hitchens.

The Sea Kings enter the season with 11 starters on offense that will not be part of the 11 starters on defense, a first under Hitchens.

The Sea Kings enter the season with a defensive coordinator not named Eric Johnson and a defense not named the 3-4, a first under Hitchens.

Mitch Gardner starts at quarterback.

Twenty-two different players start.

Tony Dodge is running the defense and its new scheme, the 4-4.

"I thought there [were] some changes that probably needed to be made for one reason or another," said Hitchens, whose team looks to bounce back from last season, when CdM finished 4-6, 0-5 in league play. "I think the staff overall is one of the better staffs I have ever had. [The 4-4 is] what I've run most of the time I've been a coach. It's probably more diverse than some defenses because it does adjust well to spread offenses. I wasn't familiar with the 3-4 defense as coach Johnson was.

"When you have kids that spend more time on one side of the ball, they can actually get better at the position."

Here is a position-by-position look at the Sea Kings:

Quarterback: Gardner gets the nod as a senior after starting one league game and playing a half in another last season. The passing game was one of the team's weak spots last season.

"Our big question mark will be the quarterback position," said Hitchens, who has junior Brent Lawson and senior Clark Cashion backing up Gardner. "As coaches, we've got to assume some responsibility. I think we were putting too much pressure on both Mitch and [last year's original starter] Michael [Borchard] to make plays. What we should've done is we should've geared back a lot sooner and put them in a position where we were just asking them to manage things a little bit more, rather than put a lot of pressure on them to make plays."

In the Sea Kings' scrimmage last week against Costa Mesa, Gardner ran the no-huddle, spread offense well. He completed seven of 10 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns.

Running backs: The Sea Kings lost running backs JD Abbott and Alex Swigert to graduation.

The ground game turns to Jeff Condino, who saw some action last season when Abbott went down with an injury. The senior has speed, and at 5-foot 9 and 185 pounds, Condino is not afraid to run in between the tackles.

Senior Clay Reinhardt and junior Erik Fisher will also carry the ball, giving the Sea Kings more speed and strength. Hitchens said Reinhardt runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds and benches and power cleans 250 pounds.