By Rob Patrick
Better than they were, but not as good as they’re[more] going to be — or will need to be.
The Bryant Hornets football team completed their final day of spring practice in pads Friday with an extended scrimmage on the flaming hot turf at Bryant Stadium.
Head coach Paul Calley, who himself got a little light-headed following the post-practice interview, estimated that the temperature on the turf had to be more than 110 degrees.
“It’s tough,” he stated. “I really feel like, if it’d been 85 degrees we’d have gotten a whole lot better execution. It was hot. We ran about 65 plays total among the three groups. We got 24 plays with the first group. And we saw some good things. Our timing’s still a little off.
“We’re still very thin in the offensive line without Ian (Shuttleworth),” Calley added, referring to his junior left tackle who is recovering from a battle with Hogkins’ Lymphoma. “We had a guy missing today and that put us down to nine legitimate Friday night players. Receivers, like I said, we’ve still got a lot of work to do on timing with the quarterbacks.
“The defense played well today,” the coach continued. “They were recognizing things better and they were closing up holes in the zones. When they opened up, they closed them pretty quick, reading the quarterbacks’ eyes. They got us a good pass rush and had a couple of turnovers with deflected balls in the secondary that we came down with, and that’s something we’ve got to have. We’ve got to have turnovers. Defensive line, we’re not very big. The linebacking corps, I thought, lived up to expectations. I thought the secondary got better as the week went on.”
Defensive coordinator Steve Griffith concurred, saying, “I thought today was a good day. It was very hot out there. But we cut down a lot of our pre-practice, the early part of our practice. We had some meetings and so forth so when we went into the scrimmage, we were pretty fresh. We tried to move guys in and out every four, five or six plays so that the guys weren’t out there for an extended period of time. But I thought the energy level for a hot day, the last day of spring, was really, really good.”
In an overview of the spring, Griffith stated, “A lot of our guys made a lot of progress this spring. We’re definitely a lot better football team than we were two weeks ago. We had some young men start to step up and, with the team camps through the summer, it gives us a chance to get a few more days even before August practice. And, of course, in August, we’ve got another 20 days, 25 days of practice before we play our first ballgame.
“So, I feel like, by the time we play the Salt Bowl, we’ll be able to put a very athletic group on the field on defense,” he continued. “We won’t be as big up front. There’s no Josh Hampton at 260 or 270, but everybody we put on the field on defense will probably run 4.9 or better (in the 40). And we’ll have a lot of guys that run 4.6, 4.5. Some guys that can make up for mistakes and, hopefully, if we do a good job of coaching, we’ll eliminate a lot of those mistakes and we’ll get those guys in position to make plays.
“So, it may be a little different in the fall,” Griffith related. “We’ll probably do more stunting than we have the last couple of years. I think it’s going to be exciting. We’re looking forward to getting these guys back — of course, we’re all ready for a little break. But, by Salt Bowl time, I think we’ll have a very athletic and competitive football team out there.”
Calley added, “I know, going in, who I can count on Friday night and who I can’t. And who’s tough and who’s not. And that’s going to figure in a lot on special teams. If somebody’s not a starter on offense or defense, we’re going to get them in there on special teams. Our special teams play has got to be exceptional. That’s won us more ballgames over the years, I think, than anything else, other than defense. It’s definitely going to be a focus when we come back in the fall.”
The break Griffith referred to will not last long.
“We don’t slow down,” Calley said. “We are off Monday. Tuesday, we’re coming back to watch film and we’re going to lift weights. We also have a team camp at Lakeside. Thursday, we’re coming in at 6:30 a.m., to lift. We also have a 7-on-7 at Pulaski Robinson.”
Looking ahead to the fall, the Hornets will host Pine Bluff in a pre-season scrimmage on Aug. 22. The annual season-opening Salt Bowl against the rival Benton Panthers is set for Friday, Sept. 2.
2011 football schedule
Aug. 22 — Pine Bluff#
Sept. 2 — Benton&
Sept. 9 — at Fort Smith Northside
Sept. 16 — Texarkana
Sept. 23 — LR Catholic*
Sept. 30 — at Van Buren*
Oct. 7 — Russellville* (HC)
Oct. 14 — at Conway*
Oct. 21 — Cabot*
Oct. 28 — at North Little Rock*
Nov. 3 — LR Central*
&Salt Bowl at War Memorial Stadium, Little Rock
*7A/6A-Central Conference games