Tuesday, July 19, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Youthful Badgers learning

By RAY BENTON Leader sports editor

The Beebe football team has had a work-like summer, going through several team camps at Conway High School as well as its typical “Fast Badger” workout program.

The main quest for the Badgers since the end of last season has been replacing a large senior class, including the entire starting offensive backfield.

Priority number one for coach John Shannon’s base Dead-T offense is finding a way to replace 5,000-yard rusher Trip Smith, who graduated in May.

“I’m not really sure how you replace a guy like that,” said Shannon. “I’ve never had to do that before. We’re working a bunch of different kids in the backfield. Instead of one guy getting the ball all the time, it’ll probably be a whole bunch of different guys. Right now we have six working in the backfield, two at fullback and four different halfbacks. You don’t usually just replace a guy that ran for 5,000 yards and not miss a beat. Those guys don’t come around every year.”

In Beebe’s offense especially, a strong offensive line can make an average back very effective, and that is a place that the Badgers have some experience. Beebe will return four starters from last year’s offensive line, plus another that got considerable playing time. That leaves two positions to be filled by newcomers.

Last year’s freshmen team went 9-1 and brings a lot of athleticism to the varsity program this year, but inexperience has shown this summer. Shannon says the team’s offseason program has increased strength, especially in the numerous sophomores, but results at team camps have been mixed.

“At times we’ve looked pretty good and other times we look like we’re really young,” Shannon said. “The camps in June, I felt like we looked pretty good offensively. Then we went back over there last Wednesday and started making mental mistakes. We started off pretty well, but didn’t finish off very well at all.”

The Conway camps are a unique format in which each end of the field features one defense going against several teams’ offenses rotating each play. Shannon, who is also Beebe’s offensive coordinator, spends most of his time with the offense during camps, but says the camps have been good for his young players.

“Defenses are at a disadvantage anyway because they’re going against so many different offenses so fast,” Shannon said. “We’ve had times when we got caught in the wrong coverage because we didn’t recognize the formation. Eventually they’re going to get better and be all right in that aspect. The biggest thing is with being so young, we’re trying to get people strong enough and physical enough to get in there and play hard-nosed. It’s just a growing up process.”

Beebe has 52 players going through summer workouts, and 26 are sophomores.