Three weeks and counting before possibly the toughest season-opener in history, the University of Central Arkansas Bears are methodically and enthusiastically going about their business.
Texas Tech on Aug. 30 is on the horizon but the Bears’ emphasis right now is what is in front of them — themselves.
A few observations from Saturday’s first scrimmage:
• It was generally a typical one. One minute you’re saying “wow?” at a superb individual effort. The next, you are shaking your head and wondering “how did that happen?”
• What strikes you immediately is the pace of play (UCA got in a full scrimmage in an hour and a half), the organization within position groups, the enthusiasm and the amount of one-on-one and two-on-two teaching going on.
There were some raised voices from the coaching staff. But most of the time, it was low-key, clinical instruction.
• The blocking, both on the goal line and in the red zone, was solid and rather efficient for a first scrimmage. On the goal line offense, the Bears powered ball into the end zone several times, but also scored on fade routes and post routes.
• The first units on both sides of the ball look pretty good.
But head coach Steve Campbell and his staff are paying a lot of attention to the second unit and the backups, the grouping in certain packages and the competition for spots on the depth chart. With the most college teams playing at a fast pace nowadays and the number of personnel packages used that are like changing hockey lines, the backups become regulars in an instant. Most teams nowadays play a lot of players, and quality depth is important. It’s a bigger game of numbers.
The concentration at the beginning of practice was on establishing the run and stopping the run. The coaching staff is determined to improve greatly on the 103-yard average a game from last year and not being able to run the ball in critical situations.
The Bears are working on striking from a lot of dimensions. Bear in mind, as committed as they are in establishing the run, the Bears are a multiple, up-tempo team that will spread an opponent out and attack on both sides of the ball.
“People talk about balance a lot,” Campbell said. “But balance is not 50-50. Balance is being equally effective in what you do.”
This week is possibly the most important week of the preseason. The get-acquainted and installation and orientation sessions are over. Summer school is over. It’s all basic football.* The first units on both sides of the ball look pretty good.
The freshness of preseason practice will fade and the grind of camp will set in.
What transpires will not be terribly exciting but terribly important.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)