Tuesday, August 10, 2010

SPORTS>>Limited supply of experience prime concern for Bears coach

Leader sportswriter

Sylvan Hills’ tradition in athletics is pretty widely known.

But the feeling of leading a program steeped in tradition has escaped Bears coach Jim Withrow in the first week-and-a-half of August practice.

“It’s just like having an expansion team,” Withrow said of his inexperienced group. “There’s a lot of talent, just not that much experience. I like the group that we have, but right now, we’re just trying to get better from one practice to the next. We were a lot better on Friday than we were on Monday.”

Withrow made strides last week in his task of virtually rebuilding the offense and replacing the entire linebacker group from a year ago. Leading quarterback candidate Michael Maddox shone in the Friday afternoon scrimmage, as did fullback Greg Atchinson.

Maddox’s highlight was a deep completion to Anthony Featherston.

The defense has made strides of its own, but is still behind compared to the offense.

“Offensively, we executed better,” Withrow said. “As far as the defense, just getting lined up is half the battle right now. And that’s a long and tedious process.”

The Bears relied heavily on their defense to carry them through a number of close, low-scoring games last year, but with all four linebackers from 2009 now gone, the middle has been the main focus of rebuilding.

“That makes it tough,” Withrow said. “One of the things when you have guys for a number of years is that you just expect them to be there. You forget that you’re going to have to replace them at some point.

“I like the guys we have in there right now — they’ve got good speed, strong guys and good athletes. Once they settle in and get some experience under their belts, we’ll be a lot better.”

The corps consists of a trio of juniors, including inside linebackers Demarcus Willis and Trey Sims. Outside linebacker Willie Johnson is the third junior and is joined by senior Nate Clark.

And there is good depth developing behind the starters. Offensive starters Justin Cook and Greg Atchinson will back up Johnson and Clark at outside linebacker, though Withrow wants to limit the amount of time they defense.

Withrow is working a pair of sophomores to back up the inside and said those players are also making progress.

The plan this week was for a scrimmage to test the first team defense Tuesday and the first offensive group Thursday. As far as the wrinkles Withrow is adding, he said the basics are what it’s all about until the players get more experience and a better feel of what to expect on Friday nights.

“If we get on the bus the right way and don’t leave anyone at home, I’m giving everyone high fives,” Withrow said. “Our numbers are good, and I like the direction we are headed, so if we don’t panic early on, we should be in good shape.”

The Bears will hold Thursday practice from 5-7 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. because of teachers’ meetings earlier on those days.