While players and observers were oohing and awing at new uniforms, University of Central Arkansas coach Clint Conquye focused Tuesday on praising his defense, which has dominated the initial days of preseason practice.
“We have a lot of veterans — eight returning starters, 15 or 16 who played in the regular rotation. It’s a lot of depth, experience, speed and length,” he said during Media, which was interrupted by rain, just as some of the drills have been during preseason.
Just as the Bears were lining up in their new uniforms for the team picture at Estes Stadium, a torrential downpour hit, sending everyone sprinting for shelter.
A few minutes later, the Bears tried it again and just as they began filing into the bleachers, another wave of rain hit.
The third time was the charm.
The intermittent showers and interruptions were symbolic of the Bears’ offensive struggles.
“We need to have same continuity on offense as the defense,” said Conque, who is beginning his 14th season at UCA. “We have talent. We’re getting better, but we need to get some offensive linemen back who are nursing injuries. We’ve got a good freshman class that we need to bring along.
“But when you’ve got a quarterback who is a fifth-year senior (Wynrick Smothers) and who is a proven winner, it’s a great person to build around.”
He said most of the Bears’ freshmen and newcomers will have the most immediate impact on offense. Those emerging are wide receiver Jatavious Wilson, center Gilberto Garcia, offensive lineman Bryan Manley and running back Kelton Warren.
“It’s going to be hard for a freshman to crack that defensive group,” Conque said. “There will be one of two defensive backs and linebackers who will help us in the kicking game. We’ll redshirt most of our freshman class and that’s a good thing.”
The Bears, picked second in the Southland Conference in preseason are ranked sixth in the Football Championship Subdivision coaches poll and seventh in the media preseason poll.
“There are two types of teams, those with expectations and those with no expectations,” Conque said. “I tell our team that there are expectations here and we need to embrace them.”
UCA scrimmages for the second time at 4 p.m. Saturday.
The Bears open the season Thursday, Aug. 29, against Incarnate Word at Estes Stadium.