With referee officials on hand, the ninth Spring football practice for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Golden Lions on Saturday consisted of an offense vs. defense scrimmage. This was their second scrimmage of the Spring, and first-year Head Coach Cedric Thomas felt that, overall, they got better.
The Golden Lions came out of the scrimmage injury free, the offense made some plays, and the defense held them off at times. It wasn't a one-sided affair, and as far as grasping the concepts and schemes, Thomas feels as if they're on the right track.
"The biggest thing is injuries, and we got out of this one healthy," Thomas said. "Everybody who walked in walked out, so that's the biggest thing. It was back and forward, and it was a good spring scrimmage. It's practice nine for us. The offense came out with a lot of enthusiasm and intensity on Tuesday, and then the defense did the same Thursday. Today was indicative with us going back and forward and competing. The offense moved the ball well, and they stalled out some plays. The defense held them well, and they gave up a few big plays. All in all, I'm excited about the retention that we're getting as far as the plays."
The offense scored the ball through the air and on the ground. At this point, Thomas isn't worried about who's doing what individually, he just wants to see the plays run correctly and the defense making the correct reads.
"I don't' care who scores and who doesn't right now, I just want to see it being done right," Thomas said. "I'm starting to see it be done right more than wrong. We're not there yet by a long shot, but we're not where we were when we first started. We're excited about continuing to work and just getting better. Just setting the culture and the mindset that when we do things right this is what's suppose to happen. I think that they're starting to understand the fate, and that's not only in football but in life. That's what we're coaching and teaching for the utmost."
Earlier in the week, Thomas eluded to the fact that in the first scrimmage the offense struggled to finish drives, and although they scored touchdowns this time, he still felt they could've executed better.
"I thought the offense did well for the most part, but we left too much out there," Thomas said. "We have to score it on 4th and 3. One of the times it was 3rd and goal on the 4, I expect to get that in. I want to score it every time, not just field goals. We have a great kicker, but I don't want to use the kickers much in regards to extra points. I'm kind of disappointed on that part, because from a mental standpoint I want to score it every time. I know when you reach for the stars you might land on the moon. Excellence is what we're shooting for, and if we find perfection on the way that's great also."
Both quarterbacks, Roger Totten and Shannon Patrick, alternated possessions, and they both got a good number of reps in. Thomas spoke about what he saw from them and how, overall, they improved in the passing game.
"I thought the passing game was a lot better, and the timing was there," Thomas said. "Roger missed a few early, but he came back and made some throws. Shannon did a great job on a post route right at two minutes, and he made a couple impressive red zone throws. I thought they finished a whole lot better in comparison to last week when they couldn't get in the box at all. I thought they did a good job in finishing."
Defense is where the Golden Lions struggled the most, ranking toward the bottom of the Southwestern Athletic Conference in multiple categories last season. Their Achilles heel was giving up big plays, and that's something that Thomas is well aware of. Getting stops in the red zone has been a key for the Golden Lions' defense, and as long as they keep the opposing offense out of the end zone, they've done their jobs.
"We are 10 times better than we were last year," Thomas said. "When you look at the numbers, we were last in pass defense last year, and next to last in total defense. I promise you this, we won't be last this year. We held a few kids out today just because we wanted to see some of the young guys get some work. I felt like they flew around and made some plays with their backs against the wall. A big thing for us is red zone efficiency. You can get it down there all you want, but it doesn't matter if you don't score it. You can lead the nation in yards, but if you don't score touchdowns that's null and void."
In the scrimmage, the UAPB offense connected on a few big plays right over the top of the defense.
"I'm disappointed in them giving up some of the big plays in the secondary today," Thomas said. "A lot of those guys played last year, and we didn't finish on the defensive end like I would like. I thought the linebackers ran well, but we have to tackle. I think we were next to last in total defense as it relates to tackling. We have to make tackles in space. Five-yard plays have to be five-yard plays, not five-yard plays turning into 10 yards because of missed tackles. We're going to continue to harp on it, and now we just have to finish and make plays when we get the opportunity."
The Golden Lions were called for a couple of unsportsmanlike penalties that Thomas addressed, and eliminating those is apart of the culture change that they're in the midst of. If it's not done the right way, then it's not acceptable for Thomas and his staff.
"It's a lifestyle," Thomas said. "I don't know how many games we'll win, but I do know these young men will be productive citizens when they leave this program. I know deep down in my heart, soul, and spirit that if we do things right, the football gods will bless us. That's the culture. The kid jumps up, throws it over the goal post, and now we have a 15-yard penalty. We're not going to do that. I always tell them that we're going to be a thermostat and not a thermometer. We're going to set the temperature. The kids understand what's expected of them is excellence, and that's it. Anything less than that we don't want it."
Now they'll move on to practice number 10 and continue to work toward their annual Black and Gold game that's scheduled for April 28.