Improved execution, renewed effort and intensity, enthusiasm and, for the most part, a healthy team — and everybody got into the act — were enough to make Paul Calley a happy head football coach as spring football work in pads came to a conclusion with a lively, competitive scrimmage on Friday afternoon.
"It went well," Calley declared. "We scrimmaged five different groups on offense and four different groups on defense, and I thought the execution and effort on both sides of the ball was tremendous.
"From Monday, which was dominated by mistakes and lackluster effort, to today, four days later, is hard to imagine," he stated. "It was that kind of transformation. It was a very productive day on both sides of the ball. I feel like we have established a pretty good idea of who our starters are going to be and our top backups."[more]
Offensively, Calley attributed some of the improvement on simplifying things a bit.
"We didn't run the ball as much," he explained. "I felt like we were ahead in the running game. I felt that was going to be our strong suit."
No surprise, particularly considering the return of Chris Rycraw, who set new school records on the ground last fall, along with the addition of a move-in, James Jones, as a backup, and the development of Marcus Harris as a fullback.
"We focused more on the passing game and we put in a couple of wrinkles off of our screen look," Calley continued. "We've had some trouble running our bubbles and our tunnels, but we put in a pass and a draw off the same look which helped us out a bunch. That was an aspect we needed to add, should've added already.
"We didn't try to do anything we weren't sure about," he added. "We wanted to run things we knew we could complete and we threw and caught the ball very well."
Dropped passes had plagued the Hornets one day then, it seemed, off-target throws were a problem the next.
"A lot of times (in the scrimmage) if we did drop one, it was because the defender was right there, right when the ball arrived, to knock it loose," Calley said.
Of the defense, the coach said, "I thought the secondary came up and supported the run today like you want them to. You want them to be there, meeting the back at the line of scrimmage. And I saw that today. I saw the defense playing harder and playing until the whistle blew.
"We were gang-tackling today," Calley observed. "We hadn't done a lot of gang-tackling. It had been just a couple of people then everybody else just kind of jogging to the ball. I explained to them in a nice way that, if that was their mentality, they were going to be watching somebody else. They weren't going to be on the field. So, they were a lot more aggressive. There were a lot more people were chasing the ball than there was even Wednesday.
"I was very pleased," he emphasized. "I think all the coaches were very pleased."
The only downside was a hand injury to senior wide receiver Chris Arnold, the extent of which was still to be determined. In addition, due to a mix-up, the scrimmage did not get videotaped. "I told the kids, as far as you're concerned, you graded out 100 percent," Calley quipped. "We have no proof otherwise.
"Before he got hurt, Chris played a couple of series and made a couple of catches and good runs," the coach noted. "We thought we were going to get out of there injury free but Chris took a helmet on the hand. It was swollen. Hopefully, it's just bruised but he was in quite a bit of pain."
Some special teams work was still ahead for the Hornets on Tuesday and Wednesday. After semester tests on Thursday, the players will have the next week off. Then summer work will begin with lifting and running, continuing until the dead period during June. The dead period is a two-week window during the summer when there is no contact between coaches and players.
Calley said his team was set to play in 7-on-7 tournaments on June 11 at Pulaski Robinson and July 11 at Fountain Lake. "We're also playing two league games in July (6th and 20th)," he said.
Fall practice will commence on Monday, Aug. 3, leading up to a pre-season scrimmage at home against Pine Bluff on Monday, Aug. 24.
"We're doing something a little bit different," Calley mentioned. "We're going to play a JV game before we play our first varsity game. We haven't done that before but the Labor Day holiday poses a problem for us on our JV schedule. We'll play it a week early (Monday, Aug. 31, at Pine Bluff's JV)."
The season begins with the annual Salt Bowl against the rival Benton Panthers at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on Friday, Sept. 4.