After reviewing the video of the Bears’ last major scrimmage of the preseason, the University of Central Arkansas Bears intensified preparations Monday for their Sept. 1 opener against Henderson State.
"This has been one of the most challenging, physically tough camps we have had in my tenure," said Clint Conque, who is beginning his 12th season as head coach. "Now, it’s a matter of getting healthy and introduce our players to the opponents’ schemes."
Neither of the two injuries to frontline players should result in a missed game, Conque said. Running back Jackie Hinton, who rushed for 28 yards on four carries in the first four plays, slightly injured a hamstring on the fifth and did not return. "He has no loss of range of motion and no swelling and should be ready by the end of the week," Conque said.
Wide receiver Al Lasker, a transfer from Air Force, left with a knee injury. "But there is no structural damage, it’s still a bit swollen but he’s walking around fine," Conque said. "We should get him back next week."
Defensive back Demond Wilcox, who is recovering from a broken leg, suffered an eye injury and will probably be out about two more weeks, Conque said.
Even though the defense dominated Saturday’s scrimmage, Conque saw several bright spots on the offense.
"Both the first offense, and the second offense at times, moved the ball extremely well," he said. "The second group got itself in trouble on some second- and third-and-long situations that stalled drives. But sometimes we started on the 10, sometimes on the 30, but both units moved the ball. There weren’t many three-and-outs."
Conque said backup running backs Anthony Blackmon (7 carries for 28 yards), Terence Bobo (8 for 20) and Marcel Threat (7 for 29) had solid performances. When they ran behind the No. 1 offensive line, the UCA running backs combined for 76 yards on 19 carries and one touchdown.
Quarterback Nathan Dick was completed 19 of 28 passes for 188 yards and one touchdown. Backup Wynrick Smothers was 18 of 26 for 121 yards and one interception.
"A couple of Nathan’s incompletions were the result of coverage and thowaways," Conque said. "He also had a couple of drops. It was a solid day, not necessarily a great day. He made good decisions and extended a couple of plays with his feet. Wynrick got in a series with the first offense and got two or three first downs. On his interception, he had pressure and he had pressure because he didn’t get the proper drop. If he takes the proper drop, he doesn’t have the pressure. He can make all the throws. We need to get some fundamental things cleaned up. Our other quarterback, Ryan Howard, was four of five, made some good decisions and properly had his best scrimmage since he’s been here."
The coach was pleased about how the Bears were able to spread the ball around to several different receivers.
Dominque Croom caught six balls for 71 yards and one touchdown. Jesse Grandy had five receptions for 53 yards. T.J. Adams had five for 36 yards. Isaiah Jackson caught four balls for 25 yards, Joe Harris four for 32 and Derrick Steele three for 23. Freshman Dezmin Lewis caught two passes for 20 yards. Tight ends Josh Ragland and Marshall Loyd also caught passes.
Conque said veteran players Matt Dickerson and Corey Howard played at a high level in the offensive line. He said center Logan Roubique and guard Dominque Allen also had good efforts. The coach was also pleased with the work when redshirt freshmen Cole Carruthers and true freshman C.J. Simon got in some work with the first offensive unit.
In the defensive interior, Conque said Justin Williams stood out. "He’s playing like the young man we thought he would be when we recruited him," Conque said. "We have not had the physical-type presence he brings to the defensive front in a long time. He can changed the line of scrimmage and disrupt the run game.
Conque said Matt Hornbuckle also played well in the defensive front. Larry Duvall was held out of the scrimmage as well as defensive end Markeith Gaines, the Bears’ best pass rusher. He said Trey Lippe, Jermaine Lett, Joe Carmical and Devin Hawkins all had strong performances at end.
He is very pleased with the depth that is developing at linebacker with Seth Allison, Frank Newsome, Jessie Sims, Jacob Bundrick, freshman Zach Bush and Lamar Moore, a starter last season who was held out of the scrimmage.
"Seth Allison is playing an an extremely high level with intelligence and production," said Conque. "He played 25 snaps at offensive linebacker and graded 92 percent and he played 15 snaps at safety and graded 100 percent. All our linebackers are playing at an extremely high level."
Safety Jestin Love was held out of the scrimmage in recovering from a slight leg injury. Conque said true freshman Bryce French has made a quick impact at the position and "is a bigtime player." Josh Jones, who returned an interception for a touchdown, and Willie Matthews, moved from running back to corner back, have also moved up on the depth chart. Marcus Peters and Marcus Dumas had solid scrimmages, according to Conque.
"On offense, I’ve been disappointed with our blocking on the perimeter,
Eddie Carmara has won the placekicking job with Kevin Buford and Caleb Noe in a battle for the No. 1 punter with Buford having a slight edge because of experience. Buford was also kick off.
"On offense, I’m most disappointed with the perimeter blocking," Conque said. "On defense, we had too many missed tackles. Some of those missed tackles could be the result of the caliber of receivers we have and others made be the result of fatigue from camp."
The Bears will have a short "newcomers scrimmage" Wednesday night as part of Welcome Week. No frontline players will be involved.