After his worst season in six years at the helm of Arkansas-Pine Bluff football, Monte Coleman is chomping at the bit to begin spring drills.
“Absolutely,” he said Thursday.
See, that wasn’t so hard to predict.
Well, Coleman won’t have much longer to wait. Spring practice at UAPB begins Monday.
“This is an evaluation period,” the coach added. “I’m excited to see what (quarterback) Ben (Anderson) will do under coach (Anthony) Jones on offense.”
For 15 practices, Coleman will get to see what Jones — his new offensive coordinator — and new linebackers coach Byron Anderson can do on the field.
Actually, Coleman already knows. Jones, who until this winter was the dean of SWAC head football coaches, and his Alabama A&M teams were constant nemeses of the Golden Lions. UAPB has lost to A&M the past three seasons, each time in heartbreaking fashion.
Byron Anderson was a graduate assistant under Coleman just a few seasons ago, but his biggest challenge will be to mold a linebacking unit that has lost one of the nation’s leading tacklers in Jer-ryan Harris and another standout in Xavier Lofton to exhausted eligibility.
“The linebacker position is very special to me,” Coleman said. “Coach (Earl) Buckingham did a good job with the linebackers, but what I’m looking for from the linebackers is for the players to play together, and we have to play smart and play consistently.”
That was just the answer to the question of what Coleman is looking for from Anderson’s group. Coleman, to this day, has not said why he fired Buckingham, other than: “We’re trying something different.”
UAPB landed only 12 recruits during the the most recent signing period, but if you’re a Golden Lion fan, fret not. Many of the players who never saw a down of action in 2013 because of academic concerns (that UAPB has never specified) will strap on the helmets again starting Monday and are expected to play during the 2014 season.
To clarify: running back Aaron Lagrone, free safety Ryan Shaw, wide receiver Willie Young, and defensive linemen Demarcus Berry and Sean Robison will return. Running back Justin Billings and defensive lineman Damien Lee, who were redshirt seniors in 2013, will not.
Now, two other questions Coleman and the Lions will have to answer:
— What is the status on Jeremiah Young? Right now, there is no answer. Coleman said he was still unsure about his sophomore-to-be running back, who is released on bond after his arrest on suspicion of sexual indecency with a minor and video voyeurism. He has yet to be formally charged. Coleman has not decided whether the former Dollarway All-State player will participate in spring drills.
Young led all UAPB running backs in rushing yards last season. No, this is not a redundancy; he was second only to Ben Anderson. So, the spring is key for Young’s classmates, Jamie Smith, Draylon Willis and Walter Ashley, to either land a full-time starting role in the backfield or establish a solid rotation for August. Young and Smith played the majority of time at running back in 2013.
— Can anyone take over as a strong No. 2 quarterback? Not that Brandon Duncan wasn’t last season, but he didn’t have to prove it on the game field. No other UAPB quarterback aside from Anderson had to take a single snap in 2013. Former QB-turned-tight end C.J. Branch came in for one play under center, and that was because Anderson lost his helmet on a play.
Duncan is still the top backup, but his classmates SanAntonio Cole, Joey Louis and Marcus Terrell can push him a lot better.
The biggest thing Coleman is looking forward to this spring — putting a 2-9 season behind him, his worst record in six years at the helm.
“I want to get this taste out of my mouth,” Coleman said.
Four months into the offseason, he doesn’t have to be much more patient.
I.C. Murrell is the sports editor of The Commercial. Email him at email@example.com.