C.J. Branch tossed interceptions on three of the first four plays during Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s second spring football scrimmage Saturday. But he enjoyed being back under center.
“It was very fun,” he said with a smile. “Me playing quarterback in high school, quarterback will always be in me.”
Branch, who moved to tight end last year, completed 6 of his next 12 passes with another pick. He worked out with the first string, taking some of the load off backup and prep school transfer Brandon Duncan in the absence of starter Ben Anderson.
UAPB coach Monte Coleman said Anderson had to take a student-teacher examination Saturday. So Branch took some snaps during the previous workout to prepare for the scrimmage.
For Branch, it was a matter of keeping his confidence after the early picks.
“You still have to command the offense with leadership,” he said.
Coleman said he doesn’t expect to work out Branch at quarterback again unless one becomes unavailable.
The offense did not score a touchdown until its ninth series, when running back Alton Taylor made a short run into the end zone. Duncan went in for Branch on the next series and threw a 31-yard pass to Isiah Ferguson on a fade route for the offense’s only other score.
Duncan completed 7 of 10 passes before throwing four incompletions on the final drive. The last attempt resulted in a pass interference call, moving the ball to the defense’s 4-yard line.
But the defense closed with a goal-line stand, holding fullback Zach Mays to three 1-yard runs and stopping Taylor just short of the goal line on fourth down.
“I’m more relaxed in the pocket and I’m able to make better decisions,” said Duncan, adding he could have engineered the offense for the entire scrimmage.
“The best thing for me to do is not to do it because I don’t all the plays yet, but I know most of them,” he said. “I’ve been in the playbook hard, studying a lot.”
Duncan will be a better quarterback when the fall comes, Coleman said.
“Coach (Eric) Dooley (offensive coordinator) has, not a complicated system, but a good system, and it’s going to take some time to learn the audibles and signals and get everybody in the right position,” Coleman said. “He’s moving in the right direction.”
Coleman said he was impressed with the scrimmage on both sides of the ball, although he said the Golden Lions still have a long way to go.
“I saw a lot of good things,” he said. “Guys are playing aggressive, and that’s the thing I want the most, is that we play aggressive.”
Coleman was pleased with the defensive line, led by Demarcus Berry’s two sacks. Coleman is leading the group this spring as he searches for their new position coach, who will succeed current Grambling State defensive coordinator Dennis Winston.
“In the midst of not having a defensive line coach … I think they’re doing well,” Coleman said. “We’re keeping it simple. We’re not moving them around a whole lot. They are stunting just a little.”
The head coach hopes to land a D-line coach by no later than May 15.
Also Saturday: Running back Justin Billings broke a 37-yard run to the defense’s 15-yard line; T.Q. Mims, who’s twice converted from quarterback to free safety at UAPB, had an interception and laid a hard hit causing David Page to juggle and drop a catch; and Big 12 and Southland Conference officials participated in the scrimmage as part of their own officiating camp.
The Lions have six more practices before their April 27 Black and Gold Game.