The Bryant Hornets football team wrapped up spring practice on Thursday and head coach Buck James was pleased, as far as it goes.
“I think we’ve gotten better,” he said. “I think that’s what every coach wants. When it comes to spring football, you got a chance to get better, and we have.
“There’s a lot of unknowns coming into it,” the coach acknowledged. “There’s going to be a lot of unknowns coming out of it too. We still have some work to do.”
After three consecutive State championships, the Hornets graduated a bunch of seniors, so there are some holes to fill. As has been the case in the past, however, because of the Hornets’ success overall and in individual games, the young players that are going to need to step in and step up, got considerable experience.
On offense, there will be new starters at quarterback and running back along with several wide receiver spots. Defensively, the secondary will be retooled as will the linebacking corps.
“I’m really proud of our offensive line,” said James, who welcomes back three star players, tackles Will Diggins and Brooks Edmonson along with guard Jason Shifflet. All will be three-year starters. All were named all-State last season.
“We all should have known that should be the strength of our football team,” he asserted. “I mean we got some straight dudes up there. It could be the best offensive line I’ve ever been a part of and that’s saying a mouthful in itself.
“These guys are really taking a leadership role and they’ve done a good job,” James said. “I’m really proud of those guys. It’s like I told our defense, if you play against the best offensive line that you might ever see, it’s got to make you better. And you know it’s our offensive line’s job to make our defense better. And I think we’ve had some of that.
Regarding the defensive line, the coach said, “Our defense line is relatively young. We’re small, really, for what we’ve had in the past. But they’ve battled and done well. They’ve given us a lot of bad plays. That’s good and bad.
“But I’m proud of both of our lines and that’s what I concentrate most on,” he added.
James reiterated that he would like to have more size, particularly on the defensive side.
“I don’t know what it is about big guys nowadays. They don’t like to play as much as they did back in the old days. But we’ve got to have them. We’ve got to have those guys who enjoy being big people and strong and sort of nasty, who’ll do the things it takes for our team to be successful.
“That’s sort of what separates us,” James continued. “You know we’ve had a group buy into it and we’ve gotten better, really on the offensive line every year I’ve been here. This is a good group of young men and they’ve done the job that a lot of guys don’t want to do anymore.”
Such ability and seasoning on the offensive line can give the less experienced skill players time to develop and mature.
“You can always run the football if you’ve got good offensive-line play and you can always throw the football,” he acknowledged. “Now, whether you can actually run it or throw it is an entirely different thing, but you have the ability to. That’s what I’m proud of those guys for.”
In regard to the passing game, James said, “Our receiving corps is young. There’s some guys that played last year that did a good job for us but they were more in support roles that they were the role. We’re having some growing pains there, but we’ve had a few guys step up and really look good and have worked really hard.
“I think our D-backs — you know that’s a place that we just got destroyed by graduation — and I’m really proud of those guys,” James continued. “You know I would say right now those guys are the strength of our defense. We’ve really had some guys step up. Coach (Quad) Sanders (defensive coordinator and secondary coach) has done a really good job on getting those guys to be the next guy up, next man in line.
“They’ve gotten better every day in spring,” he added. “They’re long and they’ll tackle. The thing they’ve got to quit doing is thinking, and that’s just through repetition. But I’m proud of where I thought they would be at this time of year verses where there at. I think they’re a lot further along.
“They’ve still got a lot to do in the summer. There’s no doubt about it. Our receiving group has really put a lot of pressure on them. What we do on offense is hard to cover and I think those guys — you know the first few days that we went through spring football, we would just thrash them. They’ve really picked it up. They’ve really matured and sort of understood their role and what they’re able to do and what they’re able to get done. That’s part of the battle.”
Regarding his running backs, James related, “Surprisingly, we have a chance to be good. We’ve gotten sort of hit up with the Covid on running back position. Our ninth-grade group has been’s been almost devastated by it, but we’ve got a few older guys that have stepped up and we’ve got some younger guys that have really stepped up. I really like our young running backs.
“They’ve got the one plus form them, they’ve got a great offensive line in front of them. But they’ve got to be able to block as well and they’ve got to be able to make yardage on their own at times. Those are things that still be determined because we more thudded than anything in the spring.
“Our quarterbacks have matured,” the coach continued. “I mean they’re getting better. We’re still a long way away from where we want to be. But the three, four guys we’re working there all bring something to the table. I think they’ve got a chance to be a big cog in what we’re going to be able to do.
“We’ve got some that can run really good. We’ve got some that throw pretty good. We got some that run and throw pretty good. We’ve just got to find the the mix that allows us to be successful.
“I think we will be a different look team this year than we’ve been in the last few years,” James related. “But I think we can run the football and I think we can be able to throw it. How we run it and how we throw will be entirely up to how well our quarterbacks can handle what they can do. We’re going to do exactly what our quarterbacks can do. No more, no less. That’s what it all revolves around on offense.
“And the same with their linebackers,” he said. “We’ve been good at linebacker the last few years and we were devastated by graduation. We’re playing about 6 or 7 guys in there that have really matured, really tackled.
“The thing we’re just not is we’re not as big as we’ve been in the past on the defensive front. That’s going to pay some dividends from our speed and quickness but it’s also going to cause some problems against those teams that just want to lean on us and keep the ball away from us.”
Concluding with an overview of the spring, James said, “All in all, I think we’ve had a good spring. I thought we’ve improved, and I think the kids have played hard and tried hard and that’s really all we can ask.”
James indicated that due to Covid restrictions, there won’t be as many 7-on-7 competitions this summer. The team will engage in some team camps.
“We’re going to do a lot with ourselves,” he stated. “I think we need to do more work with ourselves than we do to go out there and play against other people. We can work more kids that way. We can get more reps that way. And the quality of what we’re doing I think will be better in the end as well. We’re just go trying to work and really concentrate on getting bigger and stronger and stay healthy and learn our craft.”