Friday, August 15, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Week two sees a few shake-ups

Leader sports editor

Things can change daily during preseason football, and team makeup can change with it. There are also other facts and factors that come about that give a little more insight into how well or how badly a team may perform in the upcoming season.

Not all the facts can be known by anyone outside a team’s locker room, but a few things can be gleaned from the local team’s preseason so far.

Jacksonville’s numbers climb as participation increases and players are added to the team. A sophomore player from Camden-Fairview transferred in last week. It’s unknown how much he could contribute this season, but more is almost always better for any team struggling with numbers.

The Red Devils didn’t do much in week two as far as intense full-pad work. Most of the week was spent on putting in packages and “taxing them in the brain,” as coach Barry Hickingbotham put it.

Practice reports have been a bit more positive this week as well. After nothing but good reports for most of the summer and during the first few days of preseason, the last two practices of week one were not as spirited as coaches would like to see.

Reports about focus and energy levels in week two have been better.

Cabot practiced without two key defensive starters at part of last week. The team scrimmaged Wednesday afternoon without linebacker Jack Whisker and safety Jake Ferguson. Neither injury is serious and both are expected back.

What was most unusual about the scrimmage on Wednesday was when it was first-team offense vs. first-team defense, there were as many as six red jerseys on the field. Only sophomores wear red jerseys at Cabot practices. Cabot coach Mike Malham said that as many as four sophomores could start on defense, and the starting quarterback is the lone sophomore on offense. Having two players out showed just how much Cabot’s depth might depend on some of its youngest players this season.

North Pulaski really does have a chance to be better this year. Every camp is always optimistic in the preseason, and every preseason is a new reason to think North Pulaski can turn it around.

That isn’t to say the Falcons are a conference championship contender, but this team does have a legitimate chance to win three or four games this year. That is, if injuries are avoided.

There are only 35 players on the whole team and many are going to have to play offense and defense. But this group of starters is the best group since 2003. That NP team only won two games, but was in all of them and was in a conference that made up 75 percent of the state semifinals that season.

There’s also the issue of that mystical and perhaps mythical NP curse. Every year there are games the Falcons seem to have in the bag only to find a way to let the snipe loose. Two years ago it was at home against Sylvan Hills. Last year it was at McClellan. If they can find a way to hold on for a win early in the season, it could lead to good things.

The Beebe Badgers also have one of their most talented teams in a while, though they are also shallow up front. Beebe has a large senior class and a talented group of sophomores that won its conference championship a year ago as ninth-graders. But they also have their issues to deal with.

Beebe had its media day on Friday and the whole team didn’t show up. The non-participant was only one, but he’s a lineman and that’s where the team has the greatest depth concerns. Beebe coach John Shannon is well known to have strict rules concerning participation; so many more absences will make that unit even thinner.

Football teams also need to be tough, and several players’ mommas getting on the field during media/team picture day, interrupting, delaying and getting in the way of the professionals is not a sign of a tough team.

Hopefully those mothers have a better understanding of boundaries when it comes to letting the coaching staff do its job. If not, the talent and potential on this team won’t be realized.

It’s more of the same from Sylvan Hills. The new turf field is making progress, but it’s still questionable whether or not it will be ready in time for the team’s Blue-White intra-squad scrimmage. As far as the team’s progress, it’s still steady and not much as changed.

There’s been little question about this year’s offense. Everyone expects the Bears to move the ball and be good, but the defense is still a concern. Coaches are expressing a bit more confidence in the defense with each interview, but the results will have to be shown on the field.