Leader Blues

Monday, August 07, 2006

SPORTS >> Cabot offense solid, defense young

IN SHORT: The Panthers have need for sophomores to help out on defense as season gets started.

Leader sports writer

The first week of two-a-days for the 2006 Cabot Panthers kicked off this week at the Panther field house. Thursday was the first day of practice in pads for the sophomore-heavy squad.

A total of 71 players took to the 25 yards of turf in the field house as a full 100 yards of turf continued to be prepared at the nearby stadium for the team’s inaugural season in the 7A-Central Conference.

Head coach Mike Malham, now in his 25th season at Cabot, was enthusiastic about the effort from his team during the opening week. Malham says the team is right on pace offensively, but needs some assistance from a few of his total 38 sophomores on the front line defensively in order to have different starting personnel on each side of the football.

“We’ve got a good group of sophomores,” Malham said. “Some of them are going to have to step up and play this year; we are a little thin at the varsity.”

Many of the Panthers’ 15 seniors occupy the skill positions for this season. Returning at quarterback will be Cory Wade, who will be flanked by running backs and fellow seniors Chase King and Colin Fuller. Logan Lucas will return as starting center, and Corey Burns will join him on the line at offensive tackle. If any offensive linemen are faced with playing both sides, Malham says tight end Josh Clem will be a prime candidate to start at defensive corner.

One key senior the Panthers will have to do without in the early stages of the season is last year’s starting halfback Alec Tripp. A broken ankle has kept Tripp off the practice field, and will most likely keep him sidelined until mid-season.

Leadership on the offensive side of the ball should not be a problem for Cabot this season, but it’s the situation at the line that concerns Malham the most.

“We feel like we’re a little futher ahead on our offense,” Malham said. “Defensively, we are a little bit behind. We have a little bit of work to do and a little time to see if some of these sophomores can help us out there. If not, then some of those offensive linemen are going to have to play both ways, and that’s going to be pretty tough in 7A ball.

“Physically, they’re there. Mentally, it’s a totally different ballgame from playing in jr. high.”

Malham’s emphasis on defensive voids up front was to be expected, with several of last year’s starters gone upon graduation. Now entering a conference where virtually every team will have separate linemen and skill players for offense and defense, the Panthers at least have the luxury of pulling from a large pool of underclassmen to potentially complete the defensive front.

“Everything is as good as can be expected at this point. We have four weeks until our first game, so hopefully we can learn some things and everything can start coming together. They’re all working hard, if we can get some sophomores to step up on the defensive side, I think we will be alright.”