CONWAY, Ark. (UCA) - The University of Central Arkansas Bears will report Friday and open fall camp Saturday under new head coach Steve Campbell, and the first-year coach likes the team that will be hitting the practice field.
"There's good experience and there are some playmakers on both sides of the football,' said Campbell, who put the Bears through their paces during spring practice and then saw huge gains in the weight room and conditioning work over the summer. "There are a lot of things we have coming back and I really like the way they have been working.
This group is not afraid to work.' The Bears return 19 starters, including a group of 17 seniors. Campbell lauded the experience returning on the offensive side of the ball. "A couple of things that stick out on offense... we have Dezmin Lewis coming back at wide receiver. Then you have Desmond Smith, Courtney Whitehead, Damien Watts, Clay Murphy... you got some guys at wide receiver that have played football at a really high level. We have a couple a couple thousand yards of receiving coming back. "Rushing wise, with Willie Matthews back, along with Blake Veasley and Kelton Warren, we have nearly 1,000 yards of rushing coming back. (Senior quarterback) Ryan Howard threw 18 touchdowns against 4 interceptions, that's a 4 1/2 to 1 ratio throwing the ball, with top receivers back. So I like that part of the game coming back. I like that in the receiving corps we have some touchdowns coming back. We got some guys that have caught a lot of passes and scored a lot of touchdowns.'
The UCA offensive line returns nearly intact, with only Dominique Allen missing from last season's team that tied for third in the Southland Conference. Two seniors, Cole Caruthers and C.J. Simon, were on the preseason All-Southland Conference team. "Offense line wise, we have four out of five starters back, so that's big,' said Campbell. "Cole Caruthers (6-foot-4, 292 pounds) coming back as a preseason All-Conference player. same thing with C.J. Simon (6-3, 296). Alec Willis and D.J. Appe have played a lot of football, started a lot of games. Kyle Stouffer has played a lot of football for us. "There's definitely some experience back on the offensive side of the football.'
Campbell said it all starts up front on the opposite side, with junior first-team All-SLC end Jonathan Woodard leading the Bears' new 3-4 defensive scheme. Woodard led the SLC in sacks last year and was the SLC Freshman of the Year in 2012. "Defensively, if you had to pick a spot where do you want your older guys, that would be up front,' said Campbell. "And that's where we have Jonathan Woodard at one end, with 11 1/2 sacks last year. We got (noseguard) T.J. Randall coming back in the middle. We've gone to a three-man front, so two of the three have played a lot of football at a really high level. "Then we have Derek Floyd coming back at the other end. He has some maturity and some leadership there. I really like those three up front. I like our experience there, I like our play-making ability there.'
The Bears will be younger and less experienced at linebacker and in the secondary, but do get a bonus with the return of senior cornerback Dominique Brown from season-ending knee surgery a year ago. "Secondary-wise, we lost a lot,' he said. "We lost a good corner (Marcus Peters) and lost a good safety (Jestin Love), among others. But getting Dominique back was big for us. Bobby Watkins is back, Marvin Mitchell has played a lot of football and made a lot of plays. "We're going to be a little more youthful on that side of the football, but there are some playmakers coming back on defense, and that's exciting.' The Bears. picked fourth in the SLC preseason polls, open the 2014 season at FBS Texas Tech on Aug. 30 in Lubbock, the first of 11 straight weekends before their only open date on Nov. 15.
"It's true, we play 11 weeks in a row, and we're going to use it as a good thing,' said Campbell. "That's why the guys have been working so hard in the strength and conditioning program. Football is a collision sport and you have to build your body up to be able to take the pounding through a rigorous 12-game schedule. And we play 11 in a row. "So the attrition rate, the injury rate, being able to get the guys back on the field as quickly as possible, or just to not miss any playing time, is going to be huge for us. The thing I've been extremely happy with is our training staff, under the direction of David Strickland. We lost a lot of guys, some key guys, last year to injury.
We lost some guys in the backfield, we lost some linebackers, and they are all healthy now. "The health of this football team and the ability to push through an 11-game stretch, is going to be very important for us. That's why I've been so pleased with how hard the guys have worked in the strength and conditioning program, and the progress they've made. These guys are packing on muscle and getting in better shape, so I think we'll be able to handle 11 straight weeks.'
The Bears open practice at 9:15 a.m. Saturday on the practice field adjacent to First Security Field at Estes Stadium.
WEEK 1 PRACTICE SCHEDULE:
Saturday, Aug. 2 - 9:15 a.m
.Sunday, Aug. 3 - 3:00 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 4 - 4:00 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 5 - 4:00 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 6 - 4:00 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 7 - 4:00 p.m
.Friday, Aug. 8 - 4:00 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 9 - Scrimmage - 9:30 a.m.