The Bryant Hornets football team wrapped up spring practice Wednesday and, according to head coach Buck James, it’s been a productive three weeks.
“We’ve had a good spring,” he said before that final workout. “We’ve gotten better every day. There’s some things that we’ve got to get corrected. We’ve got to quit thinking and start playing. That’ll come with time.
“But I like the way our young kids have come around,” he continued. “Our veterans worked to get better. I think that, overall, it’s been the best spring since I’ve been here as far as the kids understanding the process and the way we want to practice. That’s really what we’ve worked on is how we want to practice, how we want to move from drill to drill, and what we expect out of every drill. The kids need to understand that we want them to get as many reps as they possibly can regardless whether it’s first team or last team.
“Right now, we don’t really have teams,” the coach related. “We just do it by age. We’re going to start transitioning into the guys that can play getting the reps together and the guys that need to come along, are going to get their reps together, still practicing, not to formulate a team yet but to get us a good idea, going into summer, where we’re at, to re-evaluate it and see where we are going into August.
“It’s all about reps,” James reiterated. “It’s just like hitting a golf ball or hitting a baseball. It’s about how many times you can do it. If they can do whatever we ask them to do, 10,000 times before now and the start of football season — that’s the way you get better no matter what it is. If they can do that, we’ve got a chance to be better.”
The other important factor is building depth.
“I want to get our 3’s and 4’s closer to our 1’s and 2’s,” he stated. “And our 1’s and 2’s are our juniors and seniors. They’ve been through it. We know what they can do. They know what to do. They know the plays now. We’ve got some older guys that came in late that are still trying to grasp it but most of our kids are getting it.
“The only way that we can get better is to have strength in numbers,” the coach said. “You can’t go into this level of football and have 22 football players and expect to win. You’ve got to have 44 guys that can play on any Friday night. Then you’ve got to have special teams guys that can play.”
The Hornets did not neglect special teams, even though it was spring ball.
“We’ve worked special teams a lot this spring, about 15 minutes every day,” James said. “We put an emphasis on it, on how to cover and how to leverage, just to try to get the kids the concept of what we want. We took guys that can run, that’ll tackle and just basically introduced them to every phase of the kicking game we can, to get them a chance to understand the importance of it and to become good at it.
Coming into the spring, the coaching staff was looking for options in the secondary and at wide receiver, two areas where graduation hit them hard.
“I’ll tell you what, our receivers have really come around,” James said. “We’ve caught the ball well. We’re not a tall, long group of guys but, as far as them running good routes and catching the football, I’ve been very pleased. We’ve caught the ball better this year than we have any year. They run their routes well, they carry their pads well. And the thing is, our quarterbacks are pretty accurate. So, we’ve thrown and caught the ball very well.
“Our secondary has gotten better, really a bunch of improvement yesterday,” he said, referring to Tuesday’s workout. “They had been giving up a lot of big plays. Yesterday, they did a really good job. They’re understanding the concepts, what each of them needs to do, keeping the ball in front of them and rallying to the ball. I thought they did a good job.
“I think our front seven will be as good as we’ve had since I’ve been here,” the coach asserted. “We’ve definitely got some depth up front on the defensive side of the ball. We’ve got to have guys that continue working to get better in that back end. If we can get them to where we’re two-deep there, then we can push each other to get a chance to play. And that’s still wide open. Really, other than Andrew Hayes, nobody else has been back there very much. It’s a process every day but I have seen a ton of improvement.
“Summer work will help a lot there, 7 on 7’s, that’s geared more to these guys,” James mentioned. “We’re going to have four team camps. We’ve got three big 7-on-7’s, and we’ve got a passing league with North Little Rock and some other schools like that.
“Really, we’ve got plenty of things for our sophomores, our juniors and our seniors,” he added. “With us only being able to do eight days, we’ve got to strategically get everybody sort of where they’re going to go and where they can get everything done and accomplished, and get everybody the same amount of reps.”
The first varsity 7-on-7 will be at North Little Rock on Monday, June 4, at 10 a.m. On June 7, the Hornets varsity linemen and junior varsity skill positions will engage in their first team camp at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. Also, the varsity skill positions will start a two-day 7-on-7 at Hendrix College in Conway.
The Hornets are scheduled to compete in the annual Shootout of the South, June 15-16. After the two-week dead period they’ll host a team camp on July 10 and travel to Charlotte, N.C., for a 7-on-7 competition, July 12-14.