True to his word, new offensive coordinator Lee Hays has the Tarleton State offense throwing the ball all over the field.
In a scrimmage lasting a little over an hour Friday morning, first and second-team quarterbacks Nick Stephens and Aaron Doyle combined to attempt 62 passes, and more were thrown by the mix of quarterbacks that took the field with the third unit.
"He's got them throwing the ball all over the place and running the offense at a good tempo for the most part," said second-year head coach Cary Fowler. "I'd like to think any time the offense doesn't look good, it's because of the defense we're throwing out there."
The defense won most of the battles Saturday, especially when the first-team units were on the field. Defensive tackle Chase Bowers was a big reason why, forcing two plays to be blown dead for what would have been a sack of Stephens, and batting a ball down at the line.
Cornerback Gaston Benson backed up the praise Fowler heaped on him earlier in the week when he intercepted a pass, and linebacker Marquis Wadley was heavily involved on many plays around the line of scrimmage.
"This defense is built for speed," said Fowler, who was defensive coordinator at Tarleton and Midwestern State for a combined 10 years before becoming a head coach. "We're big on the interior, but even those guys can move. Our back seven aren't very big, but they're fast and they're smart."
Fowler said the group he was most disappointed in during the first scrimmage of preseason camp was the receivers.
"We have a lot of talent in that group, too much for them to be dropping balls the way they were today," Fowler said. "Some of it was dropped balls and some of it was a lack of urgency, I think, but I know they're better than that."
The exception was Devon Gray, who hauled in five of Stephens' first 12 completions.
"That's a combination of Devon being smart and knowing his role and working as hard as he does and Nick going through his reads and checking down to him," Fowler said. "Those two work well together."
Stephens moved the first-team offense up and down the field, but generated only one touchdown, an 18-yard strike to Brad Croak.
"For the first scrimmage I didn't think it was bad," Stephens said. "We moved the ball, but then we would have one negative play or a penalty here and there that would put us in second or third and long. We just have to keep ourselves in manageable situations and we'll be fine."
Doyle was 14-24 when the second-team offense and defense was on the field. He connected with Cordell Valentine on a 27-yard TD.
Third-team receiver Tyler Wright, a freshman from Granbury, had the other touchdown on an impressive one-handed tip-and-grab in the back corner of the end zone for the other touchdown.
Returning starter Evan Robertson got almost all the snaps with the first-team offense, and was most effective on screens and flares out of the backfield. He did have a pair of drops late in the event.
"Evan dropped those two and he shouldn't have, but for the most part he looked real good," said Fowler. "He's more natural playing running back in this type of offense than he was in our offense the last couple years."
Courtney Vaughn was effective on a few first-team snaps, turning one screen pass into a big gain of more than 20 yards.
"Courtney looked good, I just don't want to push him too fast since he got off to a late start," said Fowler of the highly-touted junior college transfer. "He's going to play a major role in our offense."
Hays wasn't pleased with long drives coming up short of the end zone throughout the scrimmage.
"We're going to put the guys in there who are going to work hard and execute," he told offensive players immediately following the scrimmage. "We're going to get it right."
The Texans are hoping to get it right in the next week-and-a-half. They open at home against Abilene Christian on Sept. 1. The Wildcats handed Tarleton its worst loss in school history in a 65-3 thrashing in Abilene last year.
"It'll be here before you know it," Fowler said. "I feel like we've gotten better every day of camp. Every day, we're moving one step closer to where we need to be."
More than anything, Fowler was pleased to get out of the scrimmage healthy, especially after playing much of last season without 16 starters who were on Tarleton's 2009 team that won a share of the Lone Star Conference title.
"We have a total of three guys out right now and two of them will be back within a week," he said. "We're right on schedule with where I hoped we would be by this time, now we just have to keep working so we can always be ready to take that next step."