During the University of Central Arkansas’ first scrimmage of the preseason, running back Jackie Hinton made a big impression in essentially a cameo appearance.
Hinton, a senior who was on a 10-play limit as he’s recovering from ankle surgery, rushed for 56 yards on five carries.
"When he’s in the game, we know he’s a dynamic and explosive player," said UCA coach Clint Conque. "Getting him to game week in the best shape and healthy as possible is our No. 1 goal."
Starter Wynrick Smothers had a strong scrimmage at quarterback, completing 15 of 20 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns. Jacoby Walker was six of eight for 57 yards and one touchdown. Ryan Howard was four of eight for 45 yards and one touchdown.
"Wynrick ran the offense very efficiently with no missed assignments," Conque said. "There are a couple of things he needs to clear up as far as footwork and leadership. Walker and Howard both did some good things and have a pretty good competition going for the backup spot. Howard has a quick release and command of the offense. Walker is a true dual threat and throws the deep ball as good and maybe a little better than Smothers."
Dominique Croom caught three passes for 80 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown. Brett Soft caught three balls for 57 yards and a touchdowns. Damian Watts caught three passes for 57 yards and a touchdown. Jesse Grandy caught three passes for 36 yards. Al Lasker caught two passes for 20 yards and a touchdown. Dezmen Lewis caught two for 20 yards, Blake Gardner and Clay Murphy each caught passes.
Conque said tight ends Chase Dixon and Thomas Hart are playing well. The offensive line which gave up nine sacks (seven by the second unit) is a work in progress.
"We moved Corey Howard to center and he could be the best we’ve ever had at that position in my 13 years here," Conque said. "He’s doing things really, really sound, has good foot movement and is playing with confidence."
The Bears are thin in the offensive front after Arturo Hernandez tore an Achilles’ tendon during the summer and is out for the season. Dominque Allen, Howard, Jon Mark Holden, Cole Carruthers and C.J. Simon form the frontline group.
"We’ve got the right people identified; we just need to get them in the right places, with the biggest question mark at guard," Conque said.
Defensively, Conque said linemen Matt Hornbuckle, T.J. Randall and D.J. Willis all had championship grades. Justin Williams, UCA’s best lineman, was held out of the scrimmage and Larry Duvall was limited. Young linemen Eric Smith and Nate O’Connor also did some good things, Conque said.
Conque said Jonathan Woodard, Markeith Gaines Jeremy Jester and Joe Carmical are all playing solidly at defensive end.
Veteran linebackers Seth Allison and Justin Heard both received championship grades in the scrimmage with D.J. Holland, Blake Childress, Zach Bush and Rogae Jackson not far behind.
Conque said free safety Radarious Winston, who missed last season because of an injury, has given the coaches a comfort level on his return. "It’s his consistency, his presence and his tenchique is sound and he has very good ball skills. He also has a calming effect on the field," Conque said.
He said Karl Brady and Jestin Love are in a battle from the free safety spot and Darius Reed, a true freshmen, and Marvin Mitchell, a junior college transfer, are battle for spots on the depth chart.
"The most disappointing part overall was our cornerback play," Conque said. "There were too many missed assignments, too many busted coverages. We were not playing with our eyes and got beat over the top."
Kevin Buford punted for a 43-yard average and Eddie Carmaro put all his kickoffs in the end zone and made a 45-yard field goal.
The Bears will scrimmage again at 3:45 p.m. Saturday.