If the Arkansas-Pine Bluff offense moves the ball the way it did much of Wednesday’s scrimmage each game, coach Monte Coleman will be a happy man.
Coleman got to see how quick his offense can move with the passing game, cutting back on the run game to protect his running backs from injury before the Sept. 1 season opener against Langston (Okla.) in Little Rock.
“That’s something (offensive coordinator Eric) Dooley and I did talk about prior to the scrimmage,” Coleman said of limiting the run. “I agreed with him that would be a good deal. He could see how the quarterback was managing the game. I thought all three of the quarterbacks, Ben Anderson, T.Q. Mims and William Dunn came in and did a pretty good job.”
The offense counted on three different receivers during the 60-play scrimmage and started hot with scores on its first two drives. In all, the offense scored five touchdowns and four field goals, its last four drives ending in the end zone.
“We came out with a good start,” starting quarterback Anderson said. “That’s how we always want to do it. We just have to pick up on the end, got a little flat.”
The defense managed to hold the offense without a first down on four of the 13 drives, but Anderson still did his share of damage. He completed 22 of 31 passes, going 8 of 9 on the opening drive.
“Me as a head coach, I’m calling the plays for the defense, but I’m rooting for both,” Coleman said. “If we’ve got success on offense, I’m happy, but I’ve got to get down on the defense or correct the defense. If we have success on defense, it’s just the opposite. Today’s scrimmage is just one of the best ones we’ve had.”
Freshman Cody Swain led the receivers with four catches. He, Isiah Ferguson and Erick Thomas each had a touchdown catch.
“The offense is designed to move fast, to tire the defense out. That’s what we do in practice, work fast so we can play fast.”
Coleman didn’t make any changes defensively after the offense’s hot start but got his unit to take care of its assignments first. Overplaying roles was often considered a flaw of the defense last season, leading to big plays by the opposition.
“I think the guys are starting to get it,” Coleman said. “I saw defensive linemen running to the football, making tackles on receivers after they caught the ball after they were held up. Those are the things that make up a good football team, if you can execute, fly around and have fun.”
Junior wide receiver Ladarius Eckwood provided the highlight of the scrimmage with a 22-yard touchdown catch he made, gripping the ball against the back of a defender. Eckwood, who has been battling a bad groin, has been practicing despite being indefinitely suspended from game action for a violation of team policy.
Senior Joe Dalton saw limited action while still recovering from a foot injury, but his fellow starting linebackers, senior Bill Ross and junior Jer-ryan Harris, were held out of practice while nursing respective hamstring and knee injuries.
Coleman has most of his starting defense set. Along with Dalton, Ross and Harris, the coach said senior Brandon Thurmond and junior Damien Lee would start at the ends, and sophomore Troy Goss and senior Robert Dorsey would line up at the tackles.
Coleman said his starting secondary “probably” will be seniors Jarvis Webb and Jamel Maxwell and juniors Ryan Shaw and David Watson.
Aside from Anderson, Coleman’s starting offense is not set.
An offensive line coach has not yet been hired, but Coleman hopes to have one named by next week. Coleman said he “talked to a couple of guys” Wednesday about the position and added that Damon Nivens is doing a good job running the offensive line in the interim. Nivens is a candidate for the job full-time.