Tuesday, August 20, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot airs it out on Monday

Leader sports editor

The first day of after-school practice for the Cabot football Panthers saw a slight departure from the norm at Panther Stadium. Perhaps it was a major departure, as Cabot spent most of its offensive work on the passing game.

It was the first after-school practice and the first time the team spent such extended time on passing the ball. Pass blocking was the focal point of coach Mike Malham most of the time, but route running also got lots of attention.

Malham said it was no big secret that the Panthers may pass more this year, but did begrudge new rules that limit practice time, forcing the late start to the new formation.

“You can only get so much in since there’s basically no two-a-days anymore,” Malham said. “The way they’ve done it now you lose about eight practices from what you used to get. I don’t know if we’ll be able to get this in and get it good enough to use or not.”

Senior Keith Pledger, a three-year starter at tight end, is one of the players going out for passes. When Cabot has thrown in the past, many times it has been to the tight end on single-receiver routes. Pledger has been the target on that play many times in his career, but says what took place on Monday was new.

“We’ve never done anything like this before,” Pledger said after Monday’s practice. “This is all new stuff and it’s the first practice where we’ve worked on it. It was a little rough but I think by the end of the week we’ll get it down.”

Pledger also has to block many times instead of run routes, which he says is the key to being successful at throwing the ball.

“It’s definitely a little different for the line,” Pledger said. “Lining up in this open set, you lose a tight end, so you have to make adjustments to keep somebody from shooting through and getting the quarterback. It’s all new but I think we’ll catch on.”

Monday’s practice was strictly a teaching session. The offense went full speed against a defense that went less than half speed out of several formations, showing blockers and receivers what to expect, but applying no pressure.

Defensive pressure will likely intensify as the week progresses.

Running backs are learning routes and blocking schemes while four players shared time at split end.

Junior Jake Ferguson will likely be the starter at wideout when Cabot goes to the formation. He was named the 2012 sophomore of the year by one publication for his 97 tackles and six interceptions on defense, but has spent as much time working at receiver over the summer as he did working on defense. Senior Jordan Burke, who Malham says is the fastest player on the team, followed Ferguson in the rotation. He is also a returning starter at cornerback. Junior Brian Marshall, who is a starting defensive end, and sophomore Holden Barnes, who will see plenty of time in the defensive backfield as well, filled out the split-end rotation during Monday’s practice.

The Panthers have two exhibition games in the next week, but don’t expect to see a lot of the passing game in them.

“I doubt we’ll show much of this in these games,” Pledger said. “I think it will catch some people off guard.”

The Panthers Red-White game will be on Friday. Cabot then hosts its benefit scrimmage game against Lake Hamilton on Tuesday at Panther Stadium.