Through the first 15 practices of fall camp, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Golden Lions have vividly gotten better, according to first-year Head Coach Cedric Thomas.
With understanding the playbook and becoming more conditioned as the camp progresses, guys are starting to practice faster, Thomas said. With the first game of the regular season against Morehouse College being 10 days away, the players are becoming eager to hit someone other than the guys on their team.
"I think every day we're getting better, not just conditioning-wise, but also we're understanding the playbook and executing on a high level," Thomas said. "As we get close to September 1 we'll focus in on the opponent. Right now we're correcting the little things. We're getting in that mindset where we're a little anxious to hit somebody else."
Over the past few practices, a number of individuals have stood out and caught Thomas' eye. Junior college transfer wide-out junior Josh Wilkes (6'3, 186 lbs) has shown the ability to be a playmaker on the outside for the Golden Lions' offense. Junior college transfer junior running back Taelor Porter is fighting for more carries, and he has impressed.
On the offensive line, red-shirt senior David Aduo and junior Bradley Burrell are stepping up to be the leaders of that group. Thomas and his staff decided to hold Patrick out for a couple practices, and freshman quarterback Skylar Perry stepped in and moved the offense down the field.
On defense, a duo of sophomore defensive backs Nigel Canada and Shawn Steele has shown Thomas that they bring the edge that Thomas likes to see from his guys on the back end. In addition, senior Kevin Agee, junior Jaylen Steward and senior Je'Kevin Carter are making plays in the front seven.
"The transfer wide receiver Josh Wilkes got into camp late and he has been a pleasant surprise," Thomas said. "Taelor Porter has really turned it up a notch. On the O-line, Bradley Burrell and David Adou are holding it down. We shut Shannon down for a couple of days, and Sylar Perry really took advantage by making big-time plays through the air and on the ground. Nigel Canada has looked wonderful, and Shawn Steele has come along well. Je'Kevin Carter, Kevin Agee and Jaylen Steward have looked good up front."
Thomas is happy with how quickly guys are picking up the system on both sides of the ball, and he directly correlates that to the retention they were able to make from the spring to the summer, and now bringing it into fall.
"My biggest thing was the retention from spring to summer, to summer to fall," Thomas said. "I don't see how they've done it as well as they have. We've gotten a lot in and we're now executing. The administration allowing them here in the summer put us ahead of the curve on that part. There's still more we have to hone in on before we turn our full attention to Morehouse."
Thomas looks to release his first official depth chart next week. However, there are only a few positions where guys have fully sowed up the spot, and competition is still going on at a high level.
"It'll probably next Tuesday no later than Wednesday when we release that first depth chart," Thomas said. "When it comes to depth, for the most part, there's only a few spots that we feel like are solidified. We will have quality depth in the two-deep. We have to continue to grade film and let guys compete. Then we can make the best decision for the teams structure going forward."
With game day looming, the sense of urgency from the players has picked up, but the coaches are always looking for more time to make the team better, according to Thomas.
"From the kids, I feel it," Thomas said of the urgency. "They've been beating up on each other since July. They're ready to be a true team and be able to take their frustrations out on somebody else. The coaching staff is always kind of asking for another day, but I think we've done a great job of implementing what we want to do."
Junior safety Blake Connor missed some time with a minor injury, but he's been back without limitations this week. Junior receiver Tyrin Ralph and junior running back Ke'Shawn Williams were limited in the past but they're now full-go as well.
"Those guys are back," Thomas said. "Blake has practiced well since Monday, and Tyrin has been a full-go. We have a few bangs and bruises, but nothing too important to hold someone out of game action."
The Golden Lions will hold a scrimmage under the lights at Simmons Bank Field Friday evening at 6 p.m.