Leader Blues

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

SPORTS >> Injury leaves James’ status up in the air

Leader sportswriter

Cabot fullback Michael James may have to wait a little while to make his defensive debut.

James suffered a shoulder injury on the Panthers’ first day of contact last week and was scheduled for an MRI on Tuesday afternoon.

“They X-rayed it to make sure the collarbone wasn’t broke and it wasn’t,” Panthers coach Mike Malham said. “I don’t know. It may be a separation, but it doesn’t show it because ... usually on a separation the bone pulls away, but you don’t see that, so they’re not sure what it is.”

Without the results of the MRI, Malham guessed the worst-case scenario would have James missing six weeks. Cabot, of the 7A-Central, opens the season against 6A-East member Jacksonville on Sept. 1.

“Better now than three weeks from now,” Malham said of the injury. “We’ve still got four weeks before the first game.”

James, 5-11, 195 pounds, last played defense for Cabot Junior High North’s 9-1 squad in 2006 but Malham worked him at linebacker in the spring and was expecting to start James in the team’s 5-2 set. Senior Spencer Neumann, 6-0, 195, the team’s other starter at linebacker, and James swapped spots for most of the spring so Neumann could get quality reps at fullback and James could get up to speed on defense.

The move will pay off offensively at least, as Neumann will be able to handle the bulk of the carries at fullback, the workhorse spot in Cabot’s Dead T, until James returns. Neumann spent plenty of time at fullback in junior high before focusing on defense the past two years.

“We planned on James working at linebacker over there and then rotating them at fullback,” Malham said.

Neumann had 114 tackles and four sacks to earn all-state honors last year. Junior Riley Hawkins, 6-0, 180, was the No. 3 linebacker exiting the spring and will take over James’ spot on defense.

“He came out of spring looking pretty good at linebacker,” Malham said. “He doesn’t have the speed or strength that those two seniors had.”

James gained 1,261 yards and scored 20 touchdowns last season as the Panthers went 9-1 to win the 7A-Central, then were eliminated by Springdale Har-Ber in the first round of the playoffs.

Malham didn’t know if James was hurt blocking or carrying the ball, but the injury definitely came while he was on offense.

“Thursday, first day in pads,” Malham said. “We were doing a little scrimmage in there at the end and he came up and said, ‘My shoulder’s hurting.’ And boy, the next day, he couldn’t move it.”

Besides Neumann at fullback, the Panthers can use senior Jared Maxwell, a defensive end who practiced at halfback in the spring. They have also tried junior transfer Spencer Smith, from Central Arkansas Christian, at the fullback position.

“We’re not in too bad a shape right there,” Malham said.

Malham agreed it was fortunate James is a senior, and won’t be too behind in his knowledge of the playbook. As for his conditioning, Malham said James is unable to run right now and the Panthers are just going to have to wait for the test results and for James to heal.

“We’ll just have to wait until the MRI and see what he can and can’t do,” Malham said.