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McCollum's Column: Some initial thoughts on UCA's first spring under Steve Campbell

Posted: April 14, 2014 - 3:42pm

Nathan Brown has seen his share of springtime University of Central Arkansas football, both as a player and a coach.

He loved the electricity generated this year by head coach Steve Campbell and the new staff.

“There was a lot of positive energy,” said Brown, one of the best quarterbacks in school history who is now the offensive coordinator. “In a short period, the guys coach Campbell have brought in to this staff just exude positivity. And that’s something the players are responding to.

“I’ve been impressed with how the players have learned the new system.”

The Bears return a solid nucleus of veterans, many of whom are just one year removed from a Southland Conference championship and two NCAA FCS playoff experience. It’s a team that expected to contend for a national title last year before injuries to key players led to a 7-5 season, disappointing by their standards.

“The players are hungry; you can see that,” said Campbell.

The Bears also have a strong core of young players who, because of epidemic of injuries, were forced to play before their time.

“Anytime you throw young players into the fire like that, it can help you the next year because of the experience,” said Brown.

The Bears completed spring drills Saturday with the Purple, composed of first-team players on both offense and defense, taking an expected 48-6 victory over the outmanned White team.

“The first-team defense did what it is supposed to do, and the offense did what it is supposed to do,” Brown said.

Despite the lopsided result, some things were apparent:

• As far as depth and power running, it was one of the best springs for UCA running backs in recent history. Willie Matthews has become a leader and go-to player. There is depth with Blake Veasley, Danzel Williams and Jeff Anderson. Another promising back, Kelton Warren, sat out the spring with an injury, and there is help on the way with freshmen recruits.

“If you present a strong rushing attack, with the receivers we have, we can force people to pick their poison,” said Campbell.

• Quarterbacks Ryan Howard and Taylor Reed operate the offense with savvy and efficiency and Hayden Hildebrand may be a star of the future.

• Wide receivers Dezmin Lewis and Jetavious Wilson are playmakers, both with their hands and their feet after catching the ball.

• The offensive line, a patchwork group in some springs because of injuries, appeared more fluid this year than in recent years.

• Defensive end Jonathan Woodard is as potentially dominating as when he first showed up at UCA.

• The rest of the defense, less experienced particularly in the secondary, has adapted well to a 3-4 scheme.

After watching many spring practices, I’ve seen UCA teams with better ability to fly to the ball and more overall speed. Only a few times have I seen an offense so effective and efficient, particularly in the scarcity of turnovers.

It’s the foundation of potentially a good football team with a lot of playmakers in several areas.

“We’ve got a long way to go but so does everybody else in the country,” said Campbell. “We’re not there, but we don’t have to be.”

(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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