CHARLESTON — The first scrimmage of spring practice wasn't exactly a smooth one for the Eastern Illinois football team on Saturday, which might be expected with the Panthers still learning a new offense.
Still, Saturday's scrimmage saw too many miscues, more on the offensive side of the ball than on defense, leading EIU coach Kim Dameron to call it "sloppy." Still, he found plenty to be positive about during the scrimmage, even with the cold and windy conditions.
"Way too many mistakes, just everything. We have guys trying to learn a new system, learn new positions," Dameron said. "I thought defensively, we are doing good things. Offensively, we made some plays so we will wait to see the film to see who was the most productive. Early, we were up-and-down the field, but I don't want them to go extended reps right now because that's when people get tired and hurt. So we are trying to protect them the best that we can and have them go as fast as we can."
The EIU spring game is set for 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 21, at O'Brien Field.
There were 64 plays during the scrimmage, and wide receiver Alexander Hollins hauled in one of the two touchdown passes and Darshon McCullough scored the lone rushing touchdown. The biggest thing the offense has to do is clean up the mistakes, whether it's handoffs, dropped passes, missed assignments on the line or fumbles.
"It's ball-handling stuff," Dameron said. "We were just sloppy. We have to play in wind and cold so we have to learn to handle the ball in adverse conditions, and this is a great teaching tool. We had been better and we were sloppy with our ball-handling and things of that nature."
Offensive coordinator Scott Parr said Dameron was right with his assessment of the offense on Saturday, but also saw plenty of things he can work with moving forward.
"This is a great time to be optimistic, so I am going to look at the positives," Parr said. "I am pleased with our operation, and I am impressed with our culture and just impressed with how far along we are. To be honest, it's exceeded my expectations so far."
Saturday's scrimmage marked the halfway point of spring practice for the Panthers, meaning the whole team has been working with Parr's new Air Raid offensive for about two and a half weeks now.
So far, Dameron doesn't exactly know where they are at in the process of learning the offense, but he does know he's seen progress.
"I don't know because I've never been in this offense before, but I will say this, where we've been in past years, as far as our knowledge and getting lined up and tempo and looking like we know what we are doing, I am happy with it," Dameron said. "It's just the execution and playing against a pretty decent defense. We will see. I am not worried about it right now with making any major judgments. We will look at it after the end of 15 spring practices and where do we go from here."
It's a completely new offense Parr has brought in. The Panthers did play up-tempo at times the past couple of seasons, but the Air Raid offense is as fast as a tempo as it gets. The offense will be spread out more, so there are more reads to make.
Parr said there's no real time frame of when everyone should have the offense down, but the team is making consistent progress even though he always wants the team to be in "midseason form."
"They are further along at a lot of things than I anticipated," Parr said. "Can we improve? Yes. But at this point, I am pleased with where we are at. The timetable is yesterday to get it going. We want to have a great sense of urgency and a great commitment level. We want to be a no-excuse operation. We want to be at midseason form yesterday, not tomorrow."
The offense may be drawing a good amount of the attention, but the defense has the same system in tack and plenty of players back who saw time last season. There are a few starters out currently – linebacker Joe Caputo is sick and defensive back Iziah Gulley and defensive lineman Josh Price are both injured – but some of the underclassmen have filled in at key spots, so the defense hasn't missed much of a beat.
"We've got some young kids who are stepping up," Dameron said. "We are thin in the backend right now, but up front we are doing good, and we have several young ones that are coming along. We just have to keep more guys on the field a little bit longer."