Ryan Shaw’s name is supposed to be mentioned plenty of times this season.
This is supposed to be the year he establishes himself as one of the top free safeties in the Football Championship Subdivision and helps give the Arkansas-Pine Bluff defensive backs an identity of shutting down passing attacks.
This may still be the year. But first, Shaw has some academic business to take care of before UAPB opens the season Aug. 31 at Arkansas State.
A lot of it, according to coach Monte Coleman.
“He’s got a ways to go,” Coleman said Thursday. “That pretty much sums it up. I let him off (the team) to go do his thing to make sure he can get (his academics in order).”
Shaw, a senior from Monticello, has not practiced with the team since the first week. Coleman did not go into detail Shaw’s academic situation, but he said Shaw has an opportunity to make himself eligible in time for the Arkansas State game.
“He’s having academic struggles,” Coleman said. “He didn’t do what he was supposed to do in the classroom in the spring, and subsequently, he’s ineligible right now.
“With that, it’s really a shame. This is his senior year. He’s definitely one of our leaders. Maybe (there are) some personal problems he’s going through off the field. It’s a shame because I thought he would have been our next (Terron) Armstead as far as having a good shot in the pros. He has all the tangibles. He’s extremely smart. I don’t know what he was going through to allow himself to get in this situation in his senior year.”
With Shaw’s absence, the Golden Lions are missing their leader in pass breakups from last season with 13 and third-best returning tackler (62). He had only one interception.
In secondary coach Henry Miller’s mind, a playmaker is missing.
“Who’s going to be the playmaker?” Miller rhetorically asked. “Ryan was that playmaker along with (2012 senior) Jarvis Webb, but to have both of them gone, you just have to keep working.”
One spot is still up for grabs on a first string that currently has only one returning starter available. Former quarterback T.Q. Mims has moved back to the secondary and is now the first-string free safety. David Watson, who had two interceptions in 2012, is the only returning secondary starter. He and three-year letterman Gyovanni Harvey are expected to start at the corners.
Kevin Rucker Jr., who like the other three is a senior, may seal the starting strong safety job. But Miller is also taking a look at redshirt sophomore linebacker Antonio Jenkins and seeing some competition among freshmen Dave White, Caelon Harden and Tavion Garrison.
Sophomores Andre Mitchell and Kyle Walker could see some significant playing time in the secondary as well.
But trying to replace Shaw, whom Harvey said has a great knowledge of the game, is not an easy obstacle for the Lions to overcome.
“When our offense goes hard, that’s what helps us overcome every obstacle,” Harvey said. “When they practice hard like that, it challenges our safeties a little bit more. They can overcome the challenges expecting anything in the game. With our fast-paced offense, we should expect that from anybody in the SWAC.”
The Lions will hold their second and final scrimmage of preseason camp at 2:15 p.m. today. And the secondary will have another opportunity to establish their identity.
“We’re trying to be a more greedy secondary,” Watson said. “We want to be aggressive, fastest to the ball. We basically want to take anything out of the air.”
That would be keeping with Coleman’s theme of physical play, which he said was lacking in the previous scrimmage Saturday. But the Lions have stepped up the physicality in practice since then, he said.
“We still have a good football team,” Coleman said. “But the thing I want them to do is play aggressive every single down. You can’t take plays off. You can’t make mistakes and expect to win a game against Arkansas State or Grambling or Jackson State, any of them for that matter.”
Freshman Johnson returns to Lions
Thursday was freshman defensive lineman Anthony Johnson’s second day back practicing with the Lions after quitting the team due to what Coleman said was homesickness.
“I think he had every coach around him talking to him because even though he’s from Dollarway, I think he was a little homesick,” Coleman said. “It wasn’t that anybody was picking on him. I just think he was a little homesick and decided, ‘I’m right around the corner. I’m going home.’
“When he called me and asked me if I would have a conversation with him about the possibility of coming back, he said his body was tired,” Coleman added. “It was hot. … It was just a transition period for him and he wasn’t ready for it at that time. He’s back on the field and doing good.”
Prior teaches Lions speed techniques
Former NFL defensive back Anthony Prior worked with UAPB skill players Wednesday on speed techniques.
Prior, a master speed coach who lives in Dallas, is considered one of the fastest NFL players and the fastest in Washington State University history with a 40-yard time of 4.21 seconds, according to his biography.
“Team speed wins championships,” Prior said, “and a lot of teams fail to realize you can’t train every player the same because you have different positions, different body types. … Everyone’s got to be trained differently when it comes to speed and football speed on the field.”
Prior played with the New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders from 1993-98. He said he’ll revisit the team “sparingly” during the season to give them a “tune-up.”