Friday, July 22, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers off game in final team camp

By RAY BENTONLeader sports editor

The Beebe Badgers went through their final team camp Wednesday at Conway High School. While far from pushing the panic button on such a young team, head coach John Shannon would like to have seen a much cleaner effort in his offense in its final offseason scrimmage.

Holes opened slowly and the ball hit the ground a lot, many times before a play could even develop.

“We haven’t had that much trouble getting a snap all summer long,” said Shannon between segments of the camp. “We dropped it more today than we have in all our other camps combined. This is the last one of the year, and it’s probably our worst one.”

That was before the camp teams reconvened from a water break for live scrimmaging. The offense still wasn’t as consistent as Shannon would like in its 20-minute, continuous clock games against Clinton and Morrilton, but did pick up a few first downs and broke a few big plays.

“I thought we looked a little better in the second half,” Shannon said. “We put it on the ground a lot less, but we need to get a lot more consistent. We’d look real good one drive, then go out there and not look very good the next one.”

The big play hurt the Badger defense more than sustained drives. Clinton put together one eight-play drive and scored, but failed to get more than one first down the rest of the session.

Morrilton didn’t fare any better than Clinton in sustaining offensive momentum against the Beebe defense, but it did bail itself out of a few third-and-long situations with big gains, mostly on pass plays.

Much of that is also due to having such young players in the defensive backfield. Two players who could project as the starting inside linebackers are sophomores, as is one safety and one cornerback.

“Like I said earlier this week, we’re just young and we have a lot of holes to fill, especially in the skill positions,” Shannon said. “There’s going to be growing pains. That’s just something you have to expect when you’re playing as many sophomores as we’re going to be playing. But I like their potential. They were a very successful freshmen team, but they’re learning this is a whole different level. They’re going to get better.”

One Badger back had a very good day. Sophomore halfback Taylor Boyce broke a couple of long runs. He also caught a screen pass in the left flat that appeared to be snuffed out by the Yellowjacket defense, but Boyce juked three successive defenders and turned it into a nice gain.

“He’s the quickest guy and he’s a natural at setting up blocks and making runs,” Shannon said. “As far as setting up his blocks, he’s the best I’ve ever had. It’s just natural for him. He just knows when to cut and how to turn things into big plays.”

For most of the summer, Nathan Burnett and Khalil Anthony have rotated at fullback, replacing 5,000-yard rusher Trip Smith, who broke the school career record last year.

Boyce, Connor Baker and Luke Oakley are getting most of the rotations at the halfback positions.

Juniors Mason Walker and C.J. Caldwell are battling for the starting quarterback position. Caldwell started at quarterback his freshman year, but didn’t play last season. Walker moved into the backup QB role, and led two touchdown drives against state runner-up McClellan before tearing his ACL while playing defense.

“I thought Mason moved the team better (Wednesday), but if you’d have been here last week, it was just the opposite,” Shannon said. “Caldwell was a little behind just from not playing last year, and Mason still isn’t 100 percent back to where he was speed-wise before the injury. We started out working four guys at quarterback. Those two have separated themselves from the group, but neither one has separated from the other. So I still haven’t named a starting quarterback.”