Note: For a preview of spring practice, go here.
By Rob Patrick
With a number of players including his two top quarterbacks out of the mix during[more] the off-season, Bryant Hornets head football coach Paul Calley was a little wary about how much to expect from this team on the first day of spring practice. But once the Monday workout was over, he felt a little better.
“It went better than I expected,” Calley declared. “We were more physical than I thought we’d be and executed an inside drill, the run game, better than I thought we would, pass protected at times better than I thought we could. Of course, the defense always catches up with us and they were just playing base, but I was pleased with the effort.
“We’ll continue to get better every day,” he added. “The thing we have to do is continue to learn.”
Calley and the members of his staff — Steve Griffith, Brad Stroud, John Wells, Dale Jones and Jason Hay — all mentioned that things were a little behind where they usually are.
“We looked pretty good all things considered,” said Jones, the offensive coordinator. “We had some rust to knock off. I was pleased with varsity wide receivers’ routes for the most part. It was nice to see some quarterbacks in drills throwing the ball around. I’m looking forward to the rest of the week.”
Returning starter Hayden Lessenberry and sophomore-to-be Wesley Akers haven’t been available for off-season work because they were both contributing to the success of the Hornets’ baseball team, though they have been coming in on their own time, Jones said, to work on their throwing and learning the offense.
“We’re kind of taking it slow,” said Griffith, the defensive coordinator. “A lot of basic, fundamental drills on day one. We began just to work on how to attack the blocker, basic tackling drills. We did get in some pass skel drills and I thought we did a decent job in it. The inside drill, we did okay.
“It’s going to be two or three days before we really go live,” he added. “To see what it’s going to look like, it’s going to have to wait until then. But the effort was there. We just have to get a whole lot better on our technique and a lot more physical.”
The Hornets only return two part-time starters on defense, cornerbacks Dillon Winfrey and Aaron Bell. Caleb Thomas saw varsity time in the secondary as well. Linemen Tim Kelly, Austin Dunahoo and Michael “Blue” Smith and linebackers Parker Dunn and Cameron Price contributed off the bench last season. A pair of move-ins figure in the picture, including Marshall Everett, an all-conference linebacker at Pulaski Robinson last season, and Tyree Reese, a move-in from Little Rock Central.
One of the areas where Calley was most concerned about was his own, the offensive line, where there are no returning starters, though a few got some playing time last year.
But Monday was a good day.
“It was really pleasing,” he said of the workout. “I’m sure (Tuesday) is going to be totally opposite because they’re going to be sore and the excitement of pads has worn off. It’ll be kind of a lackluster day.
“But my guys, especially, we’ve been working since February so they better know it,” the coach asserted. “And, if they don’t know it by now then . . . I’ve got a lot of young guys that don’t understand the importance and guys that don’t understand the importance of looking over the plays and trying to get themselves ready.
“I’ve got several spots open,” Calley emphasized. “I’ve got three guys that I know I can play in the offensive line. The other two spots are open and all the back-up slots are open, I just don’t have anybody stepping up to fill them. It’s going to be interesting to see how it develops, to see which guy wants it the most. I’m usually pretty solid two deep. I don’t have that luxury now, not at this point.”
Calley mentioned Kordell Boykins, who actually started the two playoff games at guard for the Hornets last season.
“He gave us some quality minutes,” the coach recalled. “(Seth) Alkire has shown great improvement. He got in the weight room for a couple of years and he’s gotten a lot better. Once I get Ian (Shuttleworth) back. I expect him to fill one of those spots. And Cortez (Williams) had shoulder surgery and he was out a lot of the spring but he’s a ballplayer.”
Actually, the news on Shuttleworth is tremendous. Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma earlier this year, he was set for one final chemotherapy treatment today (May 24).
“They’ve done a PET scan and they didn’t find any trace of cancer,” Calley reported. “That’s wonderful.”
Still, the 6-2, 255-pound junior to be will be withheld from contact until fall practice in August.
Regarding the first day’s activities, Calley said, “What we did today is we went primarily defensive groups, so anybody that plays defense was on the defensive side of the ball, varsity guys. We took the JV guys and put them on the offensive side to get them more work.
“I don’t of anybody else that tries to practice all their kids but I have to,” he said. “It’s too hard to not. They put in the time in off-season and we’re going to try to work them all. And really, we’re not that deep. We’re down to right at 100 now. Usually, we’re at 125 at this point during the spring.”