It’s less than two weeks before Arkansas-Pine Bluff opens up the football season, and a full-time offensive line coach still has not been hired.
Yet Damon Nivens is helping the line go about business as usual in hopes he will be the new hire. Seniors Lyron McClenney and Terron Armstead have said they want Nivens selected.
Nivens, a former Southern player and assistant, came to the staff almost two weeks ago after Bruce Johnson left for what head coach Monte Coleman said was a position at Ole Miss. Although the full-time status is still up for grabs, Nivens is happy with the opportunity to work with the Golden Lions’ O-line.
“This is a tremendous experience working with coach Coleman,” he said. “He’s been around, he’s been in the league for a long time. With (three) Super Bowl rings, I’m pretty sure with his expertise, knowing the background that I have, that I can get the job done and with the depth that we have up front, we’re able to move people around and protect our quarterback.”
Protecting the offensive line better is a big key for the line, which gave up 36 sacks last season despite quarterback Ben Anderson’s emergence to the SWAC Freshman of the Year award.
“I’m a firm believer we do have it solved,” Armstead said. “One of the problems with being new, our timing together from the O-line to the quarterback was pretty out of sync. We’re so comfortable with each other now, it’s going to be a lot better this year.”
Coleman said the new full-time hire would be made after Monday, but Nivens is taking on the responsibility of naming the starters on the O-line. So far, his first string during preseason camp has consisted of four seniors: Armstead at left tackle, Ryan Savage at left guard, Christopher Wilson at center and McClenney at right guard; and sophomore Me’kale Carter at right tackle.
“I’m not sure if those are going to be the starters when the season starts because we still have guys competing for a starting position,” Nivens said. “After Wednesday, the second scrimmage, that’s when I’ll be making my decision who’s the starting lineup and who’ll be the backups.”
McClenney said Nivens has switched some protections and blocking schemes up to “make it better” on the line and easier for Anderson, who threw for 1,876 yards last season.
“At this point right now, we’re just working on fundamentals, techniques, alignments, assignments,” Nivens said. “We’re pretty much going from the start, seeing what guys have and what guys don’t have, not mainly focused on what they can’t do, but what they can do.”
Armstead has proven he can do a lot, although he was slowed down by a high ankle sprain much of last season. He was rewarded with a first-team Preseason All-SWAC selection for this year and said his health is at “100 percent”.
The UAPB O-line still made a way for the offense to average 337.6 yards per game in 2011, beating their opponents by 18.1. But opponents outscored the Lions 236-232.
So, what’s the ultimate goal for the O-line?
“Keeping the quarterback clean and make plenty of gaps for the backs to run in,” Armstead said.
Maybe Nivens will have a big hand in helping the O-line make that happen.