Saturday’s first scrimmage will be the eighth of 15 practices of the spring for the University of Central Arkansas football team.
It will only be the third practice in full pads and just the third after spring break.
So don’t expect anything fancy, said UCA coach Clint Conque. The staff will evaluate whether players are in the right position, which backup players or redshirts can challenge for a regular position and to get an overall mid-spring picture of where the team is as a whole.
"From my chair, I will be looking for communication, technique, effort, who’s consistently playing hard, fundamentals on blocks, tackling fundamentals, the quarterback-center exchanges, playing through the echo of the whistle, overall execution, just a lot of things," said Conque, who plans to run about 120 snaps in the scrimmage that will begin about 3:10 p.m. "The emphasis is where we are as individuals and as a team. It’s a big evaluation day.
"We were able to introduce most of our playbook before spring break. The veterans have come back with quite a bit of carryover. The younger players, not so much. When you are rotating 80 players, you’re not gonna have the consistency, coherency or chemistry that you want and that is expected. Saturday, we want to get everybody on film in competitive game situations. For many of our young players, it’s their first collegiate game-type competition and it will be fun to see how they respond."
Conque said he has seen a lot of good things so far.
"If you see a young player do it right two or three times, you know he has the ability to do what you are asking him to do," said Conque, who is entering his 14th season as head coach. "Then, the question becomes doing it game after game and play after play."
One of the most pleasing aspects of spring drills so far, says Conque, is the defensive front has been very disruptive led by tackle Jonathan Woodard, 6-foot-2, 262 pounds. "He has translated his offseason to the field and has be even more disruptive," added Conque, noting that Matt Hornbuckle, T.J. Randall and redshirt freshman Dawson Hadnot have followed his lead.
One of the most encouraging aspects has been the play of senior cornerback Marcus Peters, a three-year starter and one of the most experienced players on defense.
"Marcus Peters has played a lot of football for us and has made some big plays, but he has taken his game to another level," said Conque. "Confidence has never been an issue. Maturity and focus has. He is showing capabilities of a lockdown corner, which enables us to more things with our defensive personnel."
The coach said sophomore Ricky Wyatt is having a strong spring as inside linebacker and safety Jestin Love has been "more assertive in a positive way. Talent has never been the issue with him; it’s how to harness that talent."
Another key development is running back Willie Matthews has responded well to the challenge of being a lead back and Blake Veasley, a former Cross County star an a sophomore transfer from the University of Memphis, has stepped into the backup role. "Blake is the only other back on the team who carried the ball last year, but only a couple of times. In the spring, we needed Willie to emerge as a frontline guy and another back to earn a spot in the rotation and that has happened."
Conque also said Cody Dauksch, a redshirt freshman from West Memphis and a son of West Memphis head coach Lanny Dauksch has emerge as a hybrid back in run-pass situations. "He has the best hands on the team; he has the best ball skills on the team and he’s a good blocker on the perimeter," Conque said. "He can help us in a lot of situations both in the run-pass game."
He said Jacoby Walker, a backup quarterback last season, has adapted well to wide receiver but will also be used at quarterback, particularly in goal line situations. Another receiver working himself into the rotation is Courtney Whitehead, 6-3, a transfer from Air Force.
Wynrick Smothers, an all-conference quarterback last season, has been steady despite some bouts of sickness an health issues (he is scheduled to have all four wisdom teeth extracted after spring drills). Conque said Ryan Howard is firmly entrenche the backup. "The real battle at quarterback is for the third spot between sophomores Trey Taylor and Clarksville’s Trey Schucker (a transfer from Southwest Baptist).
He said Eddie Camara is having a good spring as place-kicker and Jace Denker, a kickoff specialist last year, has also had a quality spring.
Defensive end Markeith Gaines is missing the spring with an injury and Radarius Winston, moved from safety to linebacker, will miss Saturday’s scrimmage with an ankle injury.
The scrimmage is the first of three for UCA. The Bears will scrimmage at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 6, and have their spring game at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 13.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at email@example.com or at 501-505-1235. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send sports news to firstname.lastname@example.org)