Wednesday, May 11, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> New faces for Cabot’s spring

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panthers are in the middle of their third week of spring football practices and this year’s group has nothing but new faces up front.

The Panthers return plenty of experience in the backfield, but because of injuries and other spring sports, a good number of inexperienced players have seen a lot of reps this spring, on both sides of the ball.

“We’re working in a lot of kids,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham. “On the offensive line, we’re totally new – a lot of kids working. On the defensive line, we’re missing Dayonte Roberts and Chris Jones because of operations, and (Connor) Daigle hurt his knee Friday and we’re using (Colin) Thompson on offense right now.

“So, four of the eight back on defense aren’t over there right now. A lot of different kids are getting looks.”

Senior three-year starting quarterback and University of Arkansas commit Jarrod Barnes and returning senior fullback Alex Roberts each entered spring practice healthy, but haven’t been in spring drills long because of track.

The state track meet concluded last week and the Meet of Champs is approaching, but the track participants have been able to don pads this week.

“We finally got Jarrod and (Alex) Roberts back,” Malham said. “They’ve been doing track and they’ve still got the Meet of Champs, but that’s not a team thing and they wanted to practice, so they’re practicing now. That makes it (the offense) look a little better. But like I said, the offensive line is just totally brand new.

“With Jarrod back and Roberts back, (Adam) Flores, (Austin) Morse and Braxton (Burton) back at the halfbacks, the backfield is pretty seasoned. And now that track’s over we’re getting those kids back.”

Traditionally, the Panthers have had their most depth on the offensive and defensive lines, but it’s the opposite way around with this group of Panthers. As Malham noted, his team has solid talent and depth in the backfield, but zero varsity experience on the offensive line.

“Of course we’ve got most of the offensive backs back,” Malham said. “So back-wise we’re not sitting too bad. Usually it’s the other way around. Now we’re just kind of the opposite.”

On defense, the Panthers return eight starters, but because half of those starters are absent on that side of the ball, that’s forced others to step in and contribute right away. Because of the inexperience, mistakes can be expected, but it also means those players can gain some valuable reps before August.

“It hasn’t looked the best at times, but they’re all working hard and a lot of kids are getting some work,” Malham said. “Hopefully it’ll help our depth problem when we get some of the others back, like Dayonte and Chris Jones on defense, because we’re having to work other kids in their spots right now.”

Thompson started the last two seasons at defensive end, but has been working at guard this spring because of the Panthers’ lack of depth up front.

“We’ve been working him at offensive guard,” Malham said of Thompson, “trying to see if we can find some other kids that can play D, because we need him on that offensive line. We’re thin there.”

Despite the inexperience on the offensive line, Malham has seen potential in his first unit, but said the second teamers have some work to do.

“The first group’s not looking too bad,” Malham said, “the second group – a little shaky. But there’s no Friday night experience with those kids across the offensive line. It’s all brand new, so that’s why we’ve been working hard, and with the two defensive linemen out (Dayonte Roberts and Jones) and Thompson, that’s three off that front five that are not in there.

“Thompson came with us on offense and the other two are coming off of elbow surgery and shoulder surgery. They should be ready by August, but a lot of new faces on the offensive and defensive lines getting some experience. Everybody was a senior last year and the backups were seniors, too. These kids played on Monday nights last year, so they’re going to get their feet wet real quick.”

With it being spring practice, Malham and his staff can’t run through the bulk of the playbook with this largely inexperienced group, but they can get a lot of valuable reps before summer, and the head Panther has enjoyed the work ethic and positive attitudes displayed throughout these spring practices.

“We’re getting better,” Malham said. “We’re trying to keep it simple and just rep, rep, rep, rep, rep. Repetition, that’s how you learn. And the thing about it is they may not be the most physically-gifted kids in the world – the biggest kid, he’s not going to be very big, but they’re working their butts off. They’ve got good attitudes and they’re working hard, and you can’t ask any more than that.”

Cabot will practice in pads again today and Friday, and wrap up spring drills on Monday.