Leader Blues

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

SPORTS>>Injuries mar practice

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

The cooler temperature on Monday was hardly what Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow considered a paradise.

The Bears returned respectable numbers for fall camp last week, but two key injuries on the defensive side early on has
Withrow and the SH coaching staff scrambling for replacements.

A total of 60 players turned out for fall practice. The initial number expected was closer to 65, but three returning starters who decided not to return, and a pair of ineligible players whittled that number down further.

Two players who did return were defensive starters Michael Robinson and Nick Brewer. Robinson, who started at inside linebacker last year, went down with a knee injury, and defensive end Brewer joined him when he sustained a shoulder injury in practice.

Both players were key components of the Bears’ defense last season. Robinson ended last season with more than 50 tackles to his credit, while Brewer had finished with more than 60 before the end of the 2007 campaign.

Withrow did not know the extent of each player’s injury as of Monday afternoon.

“They’re juniors, so they’re not the oldest guys in the world,” Withrow said. “But when we came out here and went through drills at the end, those guys know where they’re going. And they’re helping everyone else get in place, so now we have to bring two different ones in.

“I imagine that by the time we get to conference, we will be playing a little iron-man football, and have a lot of people going both ways.”

The numbers were thin to start with. Sylvan Hills returned five starters on both sides of the ball, but Brewer’s and Robinson’s absence will now put only three experienced defenders on the field until their returns.

Withrow said depth could be an issue, but is counting on the underclassmen to take up some of the slack.

“It’s a great junior class,” Withrow said. “And the sophomores have filled in. It’s been a learning experience. A lot of them are going to have to play. We don’t have a lot of depth, because we didn’t have a big senior class to begin with. It kind of puts us in a bind, but I think some of these young guys will be able to help us, so we should be all right.

“At times, it has felt like starting over. But we have enough guys that can play. Honestly, the juniors that played a lot last year have really helped us out tremendously. Juliean Broner, Ahmad Scott, so the talent pool is there, and I think we’re fine.

The lack of experience has made the learning curve a little higher over this time last year, but Withrow said the tedious process of learning in August will help his young team out down the road.

“It’s not bad; we spent a lot of time teaching and getting them lined up,” Withrow said. “We’ve picked it up a little bit, especially since we put the pads on. Last year it was new, but we had older guys. So they pretty much knew what was coming on Friday night. These guys are younger, and we just need to make sure they know what they’re doing.”

One common enemy this time of year has yet to rear its head at practice — the heat. The end of last week and the first two days of this week have had unseasonably cool temperatures with rain on several days. Withrow said the break from the weather has been beneficial, but added he was concerned about the effects of higher temps down the road.

“I didn’t think any of it has been bad,” Withrow said. “There was a couple of times in the afternoon where it got a little warm, but I don’t know, maybe it was the days leading up to two-a-days that were so warm, but it didn’t really seem that bad. The kids even commented on it. It’s not been that bad. That’s one thing I am worried about — if it gets hot all of a sudden. How we’re going to react to that?”

Most eyes this season are focused on the quarterback slot, and how the Bears will adjust to losing all-state signal-caller Hunter Miller. Junior Jordan Spears has officially earned starting duties, and has been solid in the early practices.

“Jordan’s done well,” Withrow said. “We’ve asked him to do a lot of things, and we’ve asked him to read a lot of things, and he’s done it all well. He’s thrown the ball well, he’s more of a thrower, so we’ll throw the ball a little more this year. But he’s directed the offense and managed everything really well. That’s what has impressed me.”

The Bears will have their blue-white game on Aug. 23 before scrimmaging at Little Rock Christian on Aug. 26.