Sage Hill quarterback CJ McCord hands off the ball to Beau Roth during practice on Friday, August 23. (Scott Smeltzer - Daily Pilot) (SCOTT SMELTZER, Daily Pilot / August 24, 2013)

Quarterbacks, even the most talented of the lot, rely on protection from the offensive line in order to flourish.

But with a small collection of blockers in front of him that include a pair of sophomores yet to experience varsity action, Sage Hill School senior CJ McCord is being strategically equipped to deliver his own brand of protection to his potentially overmatched pocket constructors.

The plan is for McCord, a first-team All-Academy League football honoree who threw for 1,504 yards and 13 touchdowns, with just three interceptions in 2013, to release his passes from the shotgun formation quickly enough to avoid the threat of the pursuing pass rush.

The presence of talented tailback Beau Roth, a senior whose 1,144 yards were 81% of the team's rushing attack last season, should also help McCord and interim head coach Tom Kirchmeyer, who remains the offensive coordinator, keep defenses honest.

But whether or not the aforementioned blocking wall, which will not include a tight end, can keep would-be tacklers at bay, might determine whether a group of skill-position players Kirchmeyer said is the most talented he has seen in his six seasons in the program, will have enough opportunities to make plays.

The lack of size in the trenches is compounded by a significant lack of depth, reflected in the prospect of as many as eight two-way starters.

The Lightning, who were 5-6 last season but made their first trip to the CIF Southern Section East Valley Division playoffs since 2010, figure to also be challenged by the 11th-hour departure of former coach J.R. Tolver.

Tolver stepped down at the end of the first week of preseason practice after five seasons at the helm.

Here's a position-by-position look at the Lightning, who open the season Friday at home against Santa Ana Calvary Chapel:

Quarterback: McCord, the CIF State runner-up in the high jump last spring, has reportedly added 10 pounds to his still-lanky frame, which has made him susceptible to injury in his two previous seasons as the starter.

A concussion and a shoulder injury sidelined him for parts of three games last season, when he completed 142 of 253 attempts and also rushed 21 times for 65 yards and three touchdowns.

McCord missed considerable action due to injuries as a sophomore.

Robbie Rosoff, who filled in admirably last season as a sophomore (throwing for 439 yards, eight touchdowns and only one interception on 53 attempts), elected not to return, which places an even higher premium on McCord's health as a factor in the team's success.

"When you watch him throw, you sometimes can't believe that arm is attached to that body," Tolver said of McCord, whom Tolver considers a classic pocket passer who would much rather stand in and throw than pull the ball down and scramble.

"It's a powerful arm that shows you just the kind of athletic explosion that makes him so good in the high jump.

"He should have a big senior year, because he is smart, hard-working and talented," Tolver said.

Sophomore Caden Sheetz is the backup after gaining limited experience on the junior varsity in 2013 (a lack of bodies limits Sage to only sporadic participation in junior varsity games).

Running Backs: Before his departure, Tolver described Roth is an instinctive runner who, though lacking exceptional speed, has ample explosiveness.

"He's a good football player," Tolver said of Roth, whose 81 tackles from the rover position ranked second on the defense last season.

"He doesn't have top-end speed, but he has the ability to make [tacklers] miss, and he can run over guys to make space when there is not a lot of space."