The first day of Arkansas-Pine Bluff football practice was without one of the key cogs for the Lions — head coach Monte Coleman.
Coleman had “take care of some business with the alumni,” according to UAPB offensive coordinator Eric Dooley. While it was different to be without the day at the helm of the team on the first day, Dooley was still pleased with how the first practice went Saturday at UAPB’s practice field.
“I thought we got a good practice out of them,” he said. “It went as good as expected, but still looking for a lot more. Never be satisfied and I think these guys have more to give.”
UAPB opens preseason camp a year after finishing 6-5 and placing second in the SWAC West Division. Since Dooley and the rest of the coaches are expecting the team to make a jump in the standings, he is expecting more as practice progresses.
“As far as knowledge of assignment, I was pleased,” Dooley said. “With the tempo, we have to get going.”
Dooley was not the only one who expected a better showing as practice goes along, UAPB sophomore quarterback Ben Anderson expressed the same thought.
“Just getting back into the run of things with the whole team was good,” Anderson said. “It’s been pretty good, but we expect better.”
It is a whole different camp for Anderson, too. Last year, he was taking the reigns as the starting quarterback as a redshirt freshman. He went on to pass for 1,876 yards and was named the SWAC Freshman of the Year.
Anderson is not going to play as tentatively during this year’s camp, though.
“As a redshirt freshman, I was playing not to make a mistake,” he said. “This year, I am playing to be a leader and make plays and stuff like that. It’s a big difference. I have a lot more confidence.”
Dooley could also see a difference in Anderson’s comfort level after the first day of practice, but he also knows there is a long road to go with the sophomore quarterback.
“He’s got a ways to go, but the thing I am encouraged about is he is heading in the right direction,” he said. “I think he is going to be more comfortable and I am sure he will be more confident with what he is doing since he has been through a full year.”
With a returning quarterback under center, the coaches can focus a bit more on the other positions that need attention — specifically running back and wide receiver.
Adrian Moore and Stephen Jones combined for 1,140 yards on the ground last year, but both graduated, leaving a big hole to fill at running back.
Dooley did mention two names he expects to step up and potentially be the starting running back.
“Aaron Lagrone is a guy that will step up and is a more versatile player and can do what Adrian did,” he said. “Then you have John Toney as well, who once started. I feel good with the running backs as long as they keep doing what they are doing.”
Dezmond Beverly is back at wide receiver after catching a team-high 34 receptions last year. He will compete with sophomore Joel Porchia and junior Isiah Ferguson for the top spot after UAPB lost three of its four top receivers last year.
Anderson worked with the remaining wide receivers a lot during the offseason, though.
“We were constantly out doing routes and getting chemistry with the receivers,” he said. “Just knowing the routes and watching film to learn.”
There is still plenty of time to get the chemistry down since UAPB’s first game isn’t until Sept. 1 against Langston University in Little Rock.
“Just had to get that first day out of the way,” Anderson said. “Now just excited to get these weeks out of the way until Sept. 1.”