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McCollum's Column: Campbell evaluates Bears at halfway point of spring drills

Posted: March 22, 2014 - 7:54pm

In coach Steve Campbell’s words, most of the meat and potatoes have been doled out at the halfway point of University of Central Arkansas spring football practice.

That means the basics of the offense and defense have been installed.

“Now, it’s a matter of adding the garnishments,” Campbell said.

First, the Bears and the staff will walk away from the table for a week of Spring Break.

When they get back on the field, seven practices and two scrimmages remain (counting the April 12 spring game).

“I’m pleased with how the players have taken to the schemes and picked up on it, both offensively and defensively,” said Campbell, who sent the Bears through an 89-play scrimmage before the break. “The retention has been good.”

Campbell, who succeeded Clint Conque as coach of the Bears in December, is putting in his offense (which differs slightly) and changing from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4, which requires more of a learning curve.

“There are only so many plays you can run offensively, so a lot of the plays are the same,” he said. “It’s different terminology and some new techniques. But I am pleased with how we are executing.”

Most notable in UCA’s second scrimmage was that the Bears had no turnovers. That’s only one turnover in about 150 plays in two scrimmages.

“Now, the ball has been on the ground, but we’ve recovered it,” he said.

As expected, veteran receivers Dezmin Lewis and Desmond Smith are making plays. Jetavious Wilson also had a strong second scrimmage.

Campbell praised the efficiency of veteran quarterbacks Ryan Howard and Taylor Reed, plus the development of redshirt freshman Hayden Hildebrand.

The quarterbacks have benefitted from the guidance of offensive coordinator Nathan Brown, who was one of the retainees from the previous staff and who is calling the plays.

“Nathan can tweak things,” Campbell said. “I’ve given him what I want and he’s taken and run with it. He knows the talent and their abilites. He knows who the playmakers are and what we need to do to take advantage of their best abilities.”

Veteran running backs Willie Matthews and Blake Veasley have had two solid scrimmages and Jacoby Walker is developing as a capable H back.

On defense, defensive back Dillon Winfrey, who is a hybrid linebacker in some schemes, continues to impress.

“Dillon’s speed allows him to make a lot of plays,” Campbell said. “And Jonathan Woodard (defensive end) stands out and is solid day after day. And Blake Childress has stood out at linebacker.”

Campbell said he has gone through spring drills that is divided in half by Spring Break since he was an assistant at Mississippi State.

“I haven’t done it as a head coach; I normally like to go straight through it,” he said. “But this fits the schedule best this year. If we had done in all after Spring Break, we’d been right up against finals when we ended. This has worked out well for us.“

When the Bears return, Campbell and his staff will be looking for retention and continue an emphasis on fundamentals with a concentration on red zone offense.

“It’ll be a two-week push,” he said.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)

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