Friday, May 18, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers trying to fill gaps on inside

Leader sportswriter

Rebuilding on the offensive line was one of the top priorities for Beebe as the Badgers wrapped up two weeks of spring football practice on Friday. Four starters return to the O line, leaving three gaps for head coach John Shannon and staff to fill in.

The offensive line takes increased priority under Shannon’s Dead-T style offensive attack in which running holes are paramount. A solid anchor was in place to start with in returning starters Race Payne, Scotty Limbaugh, Jared Pressley and Brody Welcher.

“The kids worked really hard and carried over from the offseason,” Shannon said. “We had a good offseason, but we still have a few holes to fill. We have four starters on our O line back, and we needed three more to step up. We had some sophomores do a good job out there.”

Defensively, the Badgers are looking to fill vacancies at defensive end, one linebacker position and at safety. There were few players who played on both offense and defense in 2011, and Shannon said he is hoping to have a similar situation for this season.

“That’s what we would like to get into,” Shannon said. “But, if it ends up being a situation where we have to have someone play both ways, we will.”

While rebuilding is taking place in some areas, others return with plenty of experience, including three-year returning starter Michael Kirby at halfback, junior Eric Thorn at fullback and Division I college prospect Dusty Skinner at nose guard.

“No one on our team can block him,” Shannon said of Skinner. “So, we’re hoping there’s no one anywhere who can block him. I also thought Eric Thorn had a good spring. It seems like the light bulb went off for him, so we’re hoping he will develop into the premier back we thought he would be all along.”

With most high-school teams functioning year round on average, the role of spring practice has changed in recent years, but Shannon said the two weeks in May are no less important.

“I like spring ball,” Shannon said. “It gives you a chance to get a look at the young kids coming in a little earlier. You can get a good idea of who’s coming up.

The Badgers got to spend some time off the practice field on Tuesday afternoon with a field trip across Center Street in Beebe to see new Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn speak at the ASU-Beebe Student Center. Malzahn spoke during what was essentially a meet and greet, referencing his past affiliation with Shannon, as the two graduated from Henderson State University together in 1990.

“Anybody on that level has achieved celebrity status,” Shannon said. “The kids got to see him after seeing him on ESPN and things like that, so they were excited about it.”