By Rob Patrick
“I think the heat was the big winner today,” declared Bryant Hornets defensive coordinator Steve Griffith after[more] the football team’s seventh day of spring practice on Wednesday at Bryant Stadium.
The Hornets did more scrimmaging on Wednesday but made concessions to the heat including the radiant heat off the artificial surface.
“We try to break it up enough where nobody was going too many plays in a row,” stated Hornets head coach Paul Calley. “Then we separated our first group with our sophomores. So we didn’t ever go more than eight plays in a row. After the first series we only went six. It still gassed them because we went from 75 degrees last week to 97 this week. It’s hard to make that transition. The turf is 20 degrees hotter than the grass.
“We hung in there,” he added. “And we did some good things and we did some bad things that we need to correct but they’re all things we can get better on.”
After a letdown day on Tuesday, Calley said the team showed a little more life on Wednesday, at least early on.
“The heat wore on us big time,” he acknowledged. “We’ve got to have that enthusiasm but, in that kind of heat, it just wasn’t there.
“But we tackled today,” Calley stated. “We didn’t tackle bad. We didn’t tackle great. We didn’t protect the ball as well as I hoped we would. A couple of times the ball was ready to pop out but that’s why we’re doing it. I want to see guys flying to the ball. I want to see guys that can tackle in the open field and to see who’s going to protect the football.”
Griffith was encouraged.
“Despite the heat, I thought we had some guys moving around pretty good,” he said of the defense. “We tried to move them in and out in the scrimmage setting and we saw some guys make some plays. We’re starting to be encouraged.”
Specifically, he mentioned linebacker Parker Dunn, tackle Blue Smith, end Jacob Powell and cornerback/safety Aaron Bell, among others.
“Parker’s starting to get the feel of the things,” he said. “He’s stepped it up the last couple of days. I thought Blue Smith the last couple of days has kind of picked things up. Jacob’s starting to learn what we want him to do after coming over from runner back. And a couple of guys in the secondary including Aaron Bell are playing well.
“And there was a whole variety of other guys,” Griffith asserted. “Those are just a few guys that popped to my mind right away that are starting to pick it up. We’ve made a lot of progress since we started two weeks ago and we hope to continue that the next couple of days.”
Offensive coordinator and backs coach Dale Jones said he was very pleased with his corps.
“Today was a really, really good day,” he said. “I thought the quarterbacks, as far as throwing and executing and being accurate, had the best day we’ve had. I can’t tell you how many plays we ran in the scrimmage but the passing game, from a throwing and catching standpoint, was the most accurate we’ve had the whole spring.
“I was impressed,” the coach mentioned. “I mean, we got tired at the end but, execution-wise, we really looked sharp today.”
Regarding the quarterbacks, Jones said, “(Returning starter Hayden) Lessenberry looked very, very sharp. And it was (sophomore) Wesley Akers’ best practice so far this spring — ball’s out a lot quicker that it has been, on time, who it’s supposed to be to, check-down, speed out, whatever it may be, he was really good on time.”
Returning to the spread offense in 2011 has put the onus on the running backs, Jones acknowledged, but with senior Karon Dismuke, junior Jalen Bell and sophomore Madre London, he said, they’ve been up to the task.
“We’re asking them to be very versatile,” he explained. “We’re asking them to know both slot positions and the running back.
“In the scrimmage, we just rotated them,” Jones continued. “Karon might be at the slot. He might be at the running back. Jalen might be in the slot or might be at the running back. And Madre might be in the slot or might be at running back.
“I’ve been impressed with (London),” he allowed. “He’s learned quite a lot the last week. He soaked up a whole bunch. And Jalen’s probably just as comfortable at receiver as he is at running back right now. And Karon, besides Lessenberry, he probably knows the offense as well as anybody on the team. He really knows where everybody’s supposed to be.”
Thursday will be a lighter practice with less contact as the team gears up for the final day on Friday, which will be taken up mostly by an extended scrimmage.