Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

SPORTS>> It's Bears' speed vs. Leopards’ size

Leader sports editor

Both teams have their share of firepower at the skill positions, but the most intriguing match up when Sylvan Hills travels to Malvern on Friday night to open its season just may be in the trenches.

Specifically, the speed and athleticism of Sylvan Hills’ defensive front versus the sheer brawn of the Leopards’ offensive line. That appears to be the main focus of Malvern head coach John Fogleman anyway, whose Leopards boast three-year starters in guard Darius Bullock (335 pounds) and center Jared Daniel (265).

“Right now, I’d say we have our hands full up front,” said Fogleman, who got a chance to see the Bears up close when both teams participated in the Jamboree at War Memorial Stadium last week. “I was very impressed with their defensive line, with their speed and the way they ran to the ball. They have a very tough linebacker.”

That was most likely a reference to middle linebacker and fullback Lawrence Hodges, who put on quite a show in the Jamboree while playing only on defense. Hodges is expected to get his share of totes against the Leopards.

Sylvan Hills’ limited size up front in their 5-2 defense appears not to be much of a concern for Bears’ head coach Jim Withrow, whose highest praise after the Jamboree scrimmages with Little Rock Catholic, Mountain Home and Little Rock Christian last Tuesday evening was foisted upon the D-line.

“That was the biggest positive was the pressure of our D-line,” he said. “We looked realathletic and even knocked down a pass or two.”

That line was led by speedy senior guard Patrick Onuigbo, Devin Shaw, Taylor Pennington and Brian Hale.

And it should be even better on Friday with the return of all-conference end Nick Brewer, who has been out most of the summer with injury. He was scheduled to start practicing again last week and should be good to go against Malvern.

They’ll need all the help they can get against a team which may have lost six starters — including its top rusher and passer — but has a lot of weapons on offense. It begins with the strong running of tailback Oliver Archie and 6-4 quarterback Justin Jones, who moves behind center after playing a wide receiver last season. Both impress Withrow.

“(Archie and Jones) looked real athletic,” he said. “All of their skill guys looked fast. We’re worried about them getting out in space and taking it all the way.”

That concern might stem from Christian sensation Michael Dyer breaking free for several huge gains against Sylvan Hills in last week’s scrimmage, though Dyer is in a class of his own. Dyer went 63 yards on his first touch against the Bears, and also had gains of 23, 21 and 18.

If it’s not Archie carrying, it will likely be the shifty Mario Jamerson or power runner Dontail Henson, whose 160-pound frame hides the legs of a strong runner.

The strength of the Leopards, Fogleman suggested, is its defensive line, despite its limited experience.

“Defensively, they’re a big team,” Withrow said. “They play a three-man front but they do a lot of blitzing. Our run blocking (in the scrimmage) wasn’t bad, but we have to stay on our blocks a little longer, go all the way to the whistle.”

For Sylvan Hills, 2008 represents the beginning of the post-Hunter Miller era as well as a return to Class 5A after spending the past several seasons at the 6A level.

The fleet all-state quarterback/safety who signed with Ole Miss before changing his mind and heading to the University of Arkansas, accounted for more than 2,500 yards and 25 touchdowns a year ago. Millers’ absence hardly mollifies Fogleman.

“Offensively, it may be a little bit of a gray area at quarterback, losing Miller,” he said. “But (new Bears’ signal caller Jordan Spears) looked very capable and is a real running threat. The way they run the ball is impressive. They scheme well offensively.”

Juliean Broner got all the carries from the running back position in the Christian scrimmage, picking up 38 yards on nine carries. Likely to join him in the backfield on Friday will be bruiser Hodges, whom Withrow has seen fit to limit to linebacker reps during the late summer to “keep the tread on his tires.”

He should be fresh and ready to offer a power alternative to Broner’s 4.5 wheels.

The Bears figure to have a fairly balanced attack out of their Spread offense. The 6-4 Spears has the ability to take it and go but he also has a very capable arm and a big-play threat in wide out Ahmad Scott.

Scott raced 45 yards on a slant against Christian to complete a 53-yard touchdown pass play. Shaw and Pennington represent big targets at tight end and Barry Bir is another guy Spears will look for.

The road gets even tougher after Week 1 as the Bears will host Cabot on Sept. 12 and travel to 7A North Little Rock on Sept. 19.