Friday, August 14, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Head Bear pleased with team’s effort

Leader sportswriter

The Sylvan Hills Bears broke out the pads this week, the second week of fall practice, and although the team still has plenty of work to do in order to get ready for the upcoming season, head coach Jim Withrow likes the progress his team has made this week.

“I’ll be honest with you, we’ve had some really good scrimmages,” said Withrow. “It’s been real physical at times. I’ve been pleased with the effort. Our deal is we’re young and we make mistakes. We’re still kind of growing.”

The Bears graduated 23 seniors in May. They’ve still got a good sized senior class this year, but a lot of underclassmen. Withrow said earlier in the week that his younger players, as a whole, have a lot of work to do, but the head Bear said those underclassmen have shown improvement through the week.

“I think they’ve improved a lot and made a lot of progress,” Withrow said. “Their attitudes have been great and that helps. When kids take to the coaching, it really helps as far as the maturation process.”

Due to Arkansas Activities Association rules, teams can’t have full-contact practices without first having five full fall practice sessions. The Bears got those required practices out of the way last week, and spent every practice this week in full pads, giving the coaching staff a better idea of where they’re at as a team, and how much work needs to be done in order to get to where they want to be by the start of the regular season.

“I think it helps,” Withrow said, “instead of putting the pads on one day and taking a week off like you do at team camps. To actually have them for a full week and have them here every day, just to kind of get an idea of where we’re going, it really, really helps.”

Withrow pointed out some individuals who stood out this week in practices.

“This week I thought Jonathan Hicks played well at linebacker,” Withrow said. “Hunter Phillips and Joe Craft also played well there. Ty Compton at tailback played really well. He’s been real physical.

“Brandon Bracely’s played well at the slot back, and then (Jordan) Washington has made some progress and he’s looked good. I think Jordan’s got a chance to be real good.”

Washington was a standout receiver for the Bears a season ago as a 10th grader, but transitioned to quarterback in the final two games of the 2014 season because of graduated All-State quarterback Tra Doss’ broken arm suffered in week eight. Washington will be the QB full time this season.

Withrow, though, also likes the other quarterbacks he has on his team, and said the two he’s worked the most at the position this week have looked good doing so.

“Along with Ryan Lumpkin, both of those two have played well at quarterback,” Withrow said, “very well.”

Lumpkin, a sophomore, will start at receiver this season. Withrow also gave Craft praise for his ability to play the QB position, but the All-Conference outside linebacker may move to slot back on offense. Either way, Withrow feels comfortable with either Lumpkin or Craft playing the QB position if needed.

“Lumpkin’s getting plenty of snaps,” Withrow said, “and being a sophomore we want to move them along as far as we can because once the season starts he won’t get as many opportunities to do that.

“To have a No. 2 (QB), I’m not really sure. It might be Lumpkin, but Joe’s a senior. So I don’t call either one of them a No. 2.”

Even though the team still has plenty of work to do on both sides of the ball, Withrow feels good about the work that’s been done in this second week of fall practices.

“We always have more work to do,” Withrow said. “We could be crisper and cleaner with what we do offensively, and we can play a whole lot better on defense as well. But I’m pleased with both sides of the ball.

“We look like we’re reading things better defensively, getting in spots better on defense. Offensively, we’re starting to look a little bit crisper. We’re beginning to get more physical up front. That’s the thing the offensive line has done to make progress this week.”

Withrow said the linemen have really benefitted from having a full week under the direction of line coach Denny Tipton.

“Coach Tipton’s had them for a full week, and that makes a big difference as opposed to three times a week,” Withrow said. “Being with coach Tipton all week, I believe he’s got them moving in the right direction and taking the right strides.

“These scrimmages the last few days have been really physical and I’m really, really impressed with how physical it’s been. That does not mean we’re where we need to be. We are not close to there. We’re getting there. But I am pleased with the progress.”