Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

SPORTS >> Backfield boost

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

A pleasantly surprising offensive line and a wealth of talent at running back have left Cabot coach Mike Malham about as pleased as he can be this time of year.

The Panthers have beaten Jacksonville and Sylvan Hills by a combined 70-13 and wrap up non-conference play with their first
road game at Little Rock Mills on Friday.

“We’re as far along as we can be,” Malham said. “We haven’t really been challenged. We were better than the two (teams) we played but we did what we were supposed to do. I’ve seen games like that where we don’t do what we’re supposed to do.

Upsets happen every week.”

Cabot, the defending 7A-Central champion, only has one returning offensive lineman — right guard Walter James — but the reconstituted group of blockers has kept the Panthers’ dead-T offense chugging along. Cabot gained 342 yards in last week’s 35-7 victory over Sylvan Hills and 328 in the 35-6 victory over Jacksonville in the season opener.

“I think our offensive line is getting a little better every week,” Malham said. “I think they have a chance to be better than they were last year.”

Michael James gave the Panthers a big boost when he returned from a preseason shoulder injury to get some playing time last week. James gained more than 1,300 yards last year and was expected to rotate at fullback this year while starting at linebacker.

Now that James is back, Malham can return to his plan as James joins Spencer Neumann at linebacker.

“James and Neumann are the two best and they’re going to start and if I need them on offense I’ll use them on offense too,” Malham said.

James hasn’t played linebacker since he was a freshman, but Malham said his athletic ability and hard-nosed play make him an ideal starter.

“I think with James back, you get a kid that weighs 190 and runs a 4.6, 4.7 in the 40 who has been starting for three years,”

Malham said. “Even though it hasn’t been on the defensive side, he knows what it’s like to be in the thick of it.”

James’ return and the emergence of Spencer Smith in the first two games give the Panthers six quality running backs and more depth in the backfield than Malham has seen in awhile.

“We’re so deep at running back right now. Usually I can’t find enough to fill that backfield with three backs,” Malham said.

“We’re two deep. We’ve got quality all the way through running back. We had six kids with the first group.”

Jacksonville and Sylvan Hills may not have posed the same challenges they did in the past, but Malham said he is not worried about his team getting a sterner test in the early going.

“Right now it looks good but if you don’t take care of business it may not look as good,” Malham said.