Six practices into its preseason camp, North Alabama’s football team remains, as does every other team in the country, a work in progress as it heads toward the season opener.
Each day, though, the Lions get a little bit closer to getting to where third-year head coach Chris Willis wants them to be when Western Illinois visits on Aug. 29.
There are still plenty of position battles to iron out as Willis and coordinators Steadman Campbell and Ryan Aplin evaluate their players.
Even positions that seem set are somewhat in flux as to playing rotation and who fits in where. Willis and Campbell are still evaluating the defensive line and the secondary while trying to fill a couple of vacancies at linebacker.
Offensively, the Lions are looking to see who will emerge as the backup quarterback to incumbent starter Christian Lopez and which running backs will separate themselves from the pack.
Now that the Lions are in full practice gear and scrimmages are on the horizon, those questions will begin to be answered.
Willis updated the status at several positions Monday at the annual Media Day event.
• On the defensive line: “It’s a young group, but they look really good and we are deep up there.”
The current group, which could grow by one or two more players in the upcoming days, features only two upperclassmen — Colby Knoblock and Brady Owensby. The rest of the group are freshmen and sophomores.
“The D-line has been an exciting group,” Willis said.
• On the linebackers, where Christon Taylor and Will Evans are returning starters:
“Those guys have looked really good, we’re just not very deep,” Willis said. “We are trying to develop depth.”
• On the secondary: “Lot of depth out there, but we don’t know who the four or five guys are going to be outside of K.J. Smith and A.J. Bracy. There is a concern there in the lack of experience,” Willis said.
Campbell, the defensive coordinator, said the biggest concern is the number of new faces “we have penciled in” as the Lions try to replace seven starters.
“We feel good about our personnel but you never know in the heat of battle how the guys who have never done it before are going to react,” Campbell said. “The first six practices we have practiced well and played well with each other. We just have to continue to get better. The experience thing — that will come with time.”
Willis said had similar thoughts about the offense.
• On the offensive line: “It’s kind of like the defensive line,” Willis said. “It’s just a lack of experience. I like some of the people we have brought in. I feel like we are a cycle away from being where we need to be, but they have done well.”
• On the running backs, where the leading statistical leader is Terence Humphrey, who rushed for 290 yards and two TDs:
“These running backs will run you over,” Willis said. “They are all stocky, short-built, very centered-type bodies that will punish you. They are all strong weight room guys."
• On the wide receivers, where the top four return including Jakobi Byrd, a preseason All-Big South selection:
“They still look like they are supposed to,” he said. “They are living up to the hype.”
• On quarterback Christian Lopez: “He’s had a good camp,” Willis said.
As the Lions head toward their first scrimmage at Braly Stadium on Saturday, Willis likes what he has seen so far.
“I don’t know if it’s just so early and maybe I need to back down, but six practices in I like where we are at," he said. "Granted, it’s on paper and it’s only out at practice and we haven’t played anybody, but I’ve been at enough practices that I can tell when we are a long way off. I don’t think we’re a long way off; I just think we are trying to get the right people in the right spots.”