The University of Central Arkansas Bears are halfway through spring football drills and UCA coach Steve Campbell likes what he has seen so far.
The Bears finished off their seventh practice Thursday with a scrimmage at First Security Field at Estes Stadium, and will now take a 12-day break for Spring Break, returning to the field on Tuesday, March 29.
"This spring, more than any spring I’ve been here, has been about competition," said Campbell. "There’s more competition and battles for jobs and playing time than we’ve ever had.
"I think we’ve had a really good first seven days of practice. And this spring, every day is important. Every day we get out there is important. The good thing about it is, this group really loves football, they like playing the game. It’s a good, young, hungry group. I’ve been very happy with their energy, their willing to learn and digest everything.
"They are competing. It’s been great competition, with the guys helping each other out, knowing that we’re young. We have certain groups helping others and encouraging each other and making everyone better. That’s very encouraging."
Campbell said the goal coming into the 15 spring practice sessions was to fill the holes left by one of the largest graduating class in recent memory.
"The big focus for this spring was bringing along guys at the positions that we lost a lot, and those would be offensive line, defensive line and linebacker,’ said Campbell, heading into his third spring at UCA. "We had to rebuild the offensive line with five seniors missing there, guys that had played a lot of football for us. Then we lost two-thirds of our defensive line with (Jonathan) Woodard and (Derek) Floyd. And we lost two inside linebackers. So that’s been the big focus this spring."
Campbell said the replacements are talented but inexperienced.
"We feel like we have some really good players, it’s just they’re young,’ said Campbell. "We’re going to be young on both sides of the line of scrimmage. We have Jordan Toliver, Terrence Partee and Dawson Hadnot on the defensive front. And Stockton Mallett on the offensive line is as good as anyone in the conference. Those guys have done a good job of providing experience and leadership this spring."
Campbell mentioned David Tachie and Curtis Parker on the offensive line and redshirt Chris Terrell on the defensive front as players who have stepped up. Also, running back Antwon Wells has show flashes as a position that lost several players, while linebacker James Graves and safety Jaylen Lofton have caught Campbell’s eye through seven workouts.
"Due to injury, graduation and defection, we lost some running backs,’ said Campbell. "So developing some guys there will be important, too. Antwon Wells has played well there. Terrell is going to be a good football player. Graves has shown up and has a chance to be a good player. Lofton made some big tackles yesterday in the scrimmage. And (redshirt quarterback) Kolton Harfield has looked good."
Returnees Curtis Parker, David Tachie, Cade Camp, Gilberto Garcia and Austin Horton have moving into more prominent roles in the offensive line, according to Campbell, along with transfers Micah Parten and Conner Wood.
"Still have a long way to go, and there is a lot of competition, a lot of battles that will occur between now and the fall," said Campbell.
"But I’ve been pleased with the progress that we’ve made. Still a lot of shuffling of the deck that we’ll do over the next two weeks, but I like this group of guys. I like their enthusiasm and their willingness to work."
The climactic Purple-Gray game is April 9.