With the 2018 season right around the corner, we take a look at what are the biggest unanswered questions for the Bears
Is Bailey Turner back to full health?
After the devastating leg injury that limited Turner to two games in 2017, is the three-year quarterback ready to led the Bears on another deep playoff run? His talent was never in question but early reports from practice suggest Turner’s injury is finally behind him. No limitations in his mobility are apparent and he has shown to be capable of attacking defenses downfield. If Turner is healthy, that brings a much needed passing attack to balance the offensive attack. The run game figures to be a large part of the offense but a healthy Turner adds a much needed dimension for the offense to rack up points.
How will Bears replace such huge parts of their scoring ability?
Yes, four year starter and Virginia Tech tight end James Mitchell is on to the greener pastures of Blacksburg. Mitchell was Mr. Everything for Union in 2017, racking up yards and touchdowns as a tight end before Turner suffered his injury. Once he went down, coach Travis Turner relied on a revolving door at quarterback before settling in with Mitchell taking the snaps. Did I mention he also had multiple scores on special teams and defense? However, Mitchell isn’t the only significant loss for Union. Speedster Dakota Owens and bruising fullback Braxton Zirkle both graduated as well. Union will look to replace upwards of 75% of their offensive production from a season ago.
The outlook isn’t entirely bleak. Avery Jenkins, who competed in the 100M dash at the state level, returns along with Mason Polier, a vicious downhill runner who seeks contact will get carries. Aaron Stidham, another physical back will see time at tailback as well. Bryce Guerrant will also see action out of the backfield. At times, the Bears seemed one dimensional last season. The 2018 Bears will feature more of a balanced attack. The run game will still be the bread and butter, but receivers Noah Garrison, Justin Falin and Connor Giza will help take the load off the run game. Expect to see the offense run out of the T-formation a majority of the time, but also look for Turner to employ wrinkles like the spread throughout the season.
How do the Bears replace the best defense in Union history?
Union had one singular calling card in 2017, it was a dominant defense that played fast and punished the opposition. How can the 2018 version continue the tradition of excellent defense? The 2017 version held opponents to 11 points per game and never allowed a hundred yard rusher. Five players on the 2017 defense were all-state selections. (Mitchell, Qualls, Bryce Lane, Tanner Kennedy and Jeb Stidham). But with the rising talent and changes to the staff, expect the Bears to maintain an excellent defensive unit.
The changes for this year begin on the sideline. Former defensive coordinator Michael Rhoades is now the head coach for the Eastside Spartans. Taking over for Rhoades as the DC is Jay Edwards, but another new addition has Big Stone buzzing. Barry Jones, the architect of the vaunted Powell Valley defenses in the 80s and 90s, makes his return to Bullitt Park. Jones brings valuable experience and knowledge to the Bear staff.
Replacing four linebackers is never an easy situation. However, Union feels confident in the new linebacking unit. Mason Polier and Steven Anderson will fill the inside linebacker spots while Aaron Stidham and Kalen Gardner are expected to take over outside.
Replacing All-State and four year starter Jeb Stidham leaves a big hole up front. However, Nick Cooper returns and indications are Brandon Bunch will fill the void left by Stidham. At defensive end, look for players like Trevor Wagner, Connor Giza and Nick Guerrant to be factors. Mitchell and Zach Qualls leave large holes in the secondary. Avery Jenkins returns and brings game experience to one of the corner spots while the Bears believe Alex Rasnic and Noah Garrison could start at the other corner. At safety, Justin Falin looks to be the favorite for the starting position.
Seth. Sports fan. Big Stone Gap native. Freelance writer. Knows the difference between a 3-4 and a 4-3 as well as the species of the symbiote from Spider-Man (Klyntar). A decade plus covering local high school sport in one capacity or another. Takes himself very, very seriously. Hire me!!!!