Friday, July 20, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot, Lonoke settling QB spot

Leader sportswriter

A battle for the starting quarterback position has been one of the primary themes for both Cabot and Lonoke through a busy summer of team camps and 7-on-7 football as the start of official fall practice closes in at the end of this month.

For the Jackrabbits, juniors Grant Dewey and Nick Watson have both shown promise as potential leaders for head coach Doug Bost’s spread offense, while a pair of Cabot juniors, Kason Kimbrell and Grant Bell, have shared time leading the Panthers’ offense this summer.

Those battles played out side by side and in a couple of instances on the same side of the field Wednesday as Cabot hosted Little Rock Catholic and Hazen along with the Jackrabbits in weekly 7-on-7 league play at Panther Stadium.

The Panthers are looking to replace graduated quarterback Zac Craig while the Jackrabbits are starting from scratch after moving former quarterback D.J. Burton back to his original receiver position.

“They’re battling it out for the quarterback spot,” Bost said. “We moved D.J. out to receiver – probably more of a natural position for him, and he’s bought into it, doing a heck of a job. That’s where he started as a sophomore. The quarterbacks have been rotating all summer and giving us some good looks.”

Dewey was a backup to Burton last season while Watson was a receiver asa sophomore. Another potential quarterback moved out of the area before the start of summer and left a vacancy, prompting Bost to move Watson over just as he did with Burton a year ago.

“He can go play either one for us,” Bost said of Watson. “They’ve hit the playbook – we’ve got some new passing concepts this year, and they know their progression and where their reads are, so we’re real pleased with where they are right now.”

The receiver corps also looked crisp for Lonoke on Wednesday, particularly incoming senior Reid McKenzie, who has started to use his size advantage over most opponents to pull down the higher offerings from Dewey and Watson. Blake Gooden looked good on both sides of the ball, pulling in a number of passes on offense with a number of nice breakups and a couple of interceptions on defense.

“The kids have been working hard,” Bost said. “Lifting weights three days a week, running three days a week – we’ve been to three seven-on-seven tournaments, we’ve been to two team camps, and we’ll finish up one tomorrow night. So, it’s been a busy summer, and we’re looking forward to getting started here on the 30th.”

Cabot has traditionally used 7-on-7 primarily for defensive purposes, but the Panthers’ passing game held its own with Catholic and Lonoke on Wednesday.

Still, head coach Mike Malham and staff had their eyes on the secondary. There were a few long passes that got by the defense, and some of the in routes by opponents resulted in significant gains, but in typical Cabot fashion, the defense tightened up as opposing offenses got closer to the goal line.

It’s been a good summer so far for junior Jordan Burke, who started in the secondary a year ago as a sophomore, while sophomore Jacob Ferguson and move-in Spencer Gilcrest could earn starting positions this fall with their efforts throughout June and July.

“With those coming back, plus the new kids we’re looking at, I’m looking for our secondary to look a lot better,” Malham said. “And that’s a big key to playing good defense. We can teach good technique to those linemen, but when you’ve got people working in open spaces, sometimes it just gets down to who’s the better athlete.”

The offense worked fairly consistent through the four scrimmages on Wednesday. There were some dropped passes and isolated misreads, but overall, both Kimbrell and Bell looked in control of the offense. That could mean an improved passing game for the Panthers this year, but as always, Malham will be counting on the running game in most situations.

“We spend as much time throwing as we do running,” Malham said. “But the success rate percentage-wise seems to be that we complete more handoffs than we do passes.”

Last year’s disappointing 3-7 record ended the Panthers’ season without a spot in the 7A playoffs for the first time in five years, but with more experience and improved depth on defense returning in 2012, Malham said he is hoping for a much better outcome as they return to the 7A/6A East Conference.

“We’ve got a lot done,” Malham said. “With the kids coming back, I think we’ve made a lot of progress – it looks a lot better than it did last year. Offensively, of course, we’re getting to work on our throwing game right now, which we always install. We’ve got some kids who run well, and at times catch the ball well. Overall, I think it’s been a successful summer, and a week from Monday, we start getting ready for the real thing.”