“Multi-dimensional offense” and “Chandler Basha football” haven’t been synonymous with one another the past couple seasons, but the Bears are in the process of changing their tune.
Junior Michael Benjamin will take over as the team’s starting quarterback after Troy Graham graduated.
Benjamin played the final regular-season game and both playoff games for the Bears last season after Graham suffered a season-ending injury against Tempe Corona del Sol.
Graham was a drop-back passer, but Benjamin can throw and run, and the Bears will tweak their offense to accommodate him, much like they did a few years ago when Shane McBurney was quarterback.
“He’s real knowledgeable and real smart,” coach Tim McBurney said. “We like his ability to read a defense and not just look down one receiver.”
Though the plan is to open up offensively, the playbook won’t change much. A few extra plays will be dusted off from the Shane McBurney era (2003-2005), but those were already in the packet, just seldom used.
Benjamin was impressive during passing league and summer workouts.
The Bears have Will Still in the backfield, but Benjamin adds a mobile quarterback and potentially improved passing game that Basha has missed at times in the past three years.
“Four times, I wanted to yell at (Benjamin) for throwing into coverage, but he put it into the right spot, so I managed to keep my mouth shut,” McBurney said.
A little Bryce Lamb went a long way last season. Chandler High football coach Jim Ewan is eyeing more from the multipurpose senior running back, returner and defender, as the Wolves opened practice Monday looking for another playoff berth.
“He’s definitely someone we want to get the ball to as much as we can,” Ewan said.
Lamb rushed for three scores last year and was Chandler’s third-leading rusher while sharing duties with two teammates.
Lamb also caught three TD passes and returned two kicks for touchdowns.
Ewan is expecting some burden to be lifted from Lamb with the arrival of two transfers who figure to contribute heavily to the offense.
Receivers Markus Wheaton, who played at Phoenix Mountain Pointe, and Caleve DeBoskie, who played at Chandler Hamilton last season, are being counted on for their big-play capabilities.
PHOENIX DESERT VISTA
The Thunder are still waiting to find out if tailback Marcus Washington will be ready for the first game of the season against Gilbert. Washington, expected to see the bulk of the team’s carries at running back because of his Division I potential, suffered a stress fracture this summer.
A rod was put into his leg, which coach Dan Hinds said will likely stay. He’s expected to be healthy by either the second or third game of the season, but Hinds said Washington is pushing to be ready for the opener.
Washington rushed for 415 yards and four touchdowns last season.
The Hawks aren’t going to scare the opposition with their size. But that’s OK with coach Pete Wahlheim.
“I like this group,” said Wahlheim, who is preparing for his second season at the Highland helm. “We have no special kid, just 30 undersized kids who work their tails off.”
“Physically, we’re better prepared,” he said.
That’s good news, especially in reference to the Hawks’ offensive line. All five of their returnees (tackles Nate Adams and Andrew LeBaron, guards Jared Ashton and Luke Plzak and center Sefita Vaki) either started or received extensive playing time last season.
Wahlheim also likes that he has two seniors vying for the quarterback spot — last year’s backup Drew Davis and James Pazos.
Davis is 5-foot-10, 180 pounds. Pazos, a standout left-handed baseball pitcher, is 6-2, 220.
“We’re very comfortable with both guys,” Wahlheim said. “Drew has made great strides since last season. James played tight end last year, and has a great arm.”
Linebacker Hayden Tippett, the only sophomore starter in 2007, will likely miss a preseason scrimmage with Scottsdale Notre Dame and might miss the season opener at Phoenix Sunnyslope on Sept. 5 with a pair of injuries.
Tippett had cleanup surgery three weeks ago on a torn meniscus, then broke his finger when he dropped a bar bell on it last week.
“He wasn’t going to practice this week, anyway, because of the knee,” McClintock coach Mike Gibbons said. “Hopefully he will be ready for Notre Dame, but a more realistic timetable is hopefully the opener.”
Tippett was fourth on the team with 66 tackles last season and is expected to anchor a young defense.
Tribune writer Kyle Odegard contributed to this story