Arkansas worked without pads Wednesday to complete its second day of spring football drills in bright sunny conditions Wednesday. No coaches were available after practice, but an old hand on the defense probably said what staff members would have voiced.
"It's time to put on the pads and play real football," senior linebacker Jerry Franklin said. "We need to play football."
Franklin has started at linebacker the last three seasons and has emerged as a vocal team leader. He said the first two practices "were real good." But there's just so much you can learn without pads.
"I think we'll see more after we get the pads on," Franklin said after Wednesday's workout. "Don't know if what you take out of these first two means as much as when you get to hitting a little. We need to do that.
"We've had two good days. There have been some mistakes here and there and you can do more. Like I said, it was pretty good, but this wasn't pads."
The Hogs will put on pads for the final practice before spring break on Thursday. Then they will take off for 10 days.
The Hogs got in plenty of work on the passing game the last two days. There were two long 7-on-7 periods Wednesday. The first went 27 snaps in a blitz pickup drill. The second went 54 plays. There were few deep completions, but both Tyler Wilson and Brandon Mitchell had impressive throws. Wilson sparkled when he found wideouts in the deep seams, much like Ryan Mallett has done the past two years.
Franklin said Mallett's departure hasn't been noticed by the defense. He sees quarterbacks making plays and making it hard on the defense in the first two days.
"I've usually been with the ones, working against twos the last several years," Franklin said. "So that means I'm not seeing Mallett a lot when I'm on the field. I saw him from the sideline. But what I'd tell you right now, these quarterbacks can play. It looks a lot the same from what I'm used to saying.
"If I've noticed anything, it's that Tyler throws it a little quicker and it has a little more zip on it than what I remember last year. I think all of these quarterbacks can throw it. I see a little extra zip from Tyler."
Franklin might have a little more in his step, too. He said he's gained five pounds in the offseason and feels good.
"I don't really think there's a weight I need to be," he said. "I just want to get stronger and work. I don't have to be at a certain spot."
He does want to be in a certain spot on the field. After three years of hearing he might be better at will linebacker, he wants to stay in the middle.
"That's my place," he said. "I am a mike linebacker. It's me. I'm happy there. You stay in the box, play the middle and don't have to worry about too much other than that. It's what I do. I'm glad to just be in that box now."
Franklin has been praised by coaches for his work in the weight room and on the field in a leadership role.
"It was just time to be more vocal," Franklin said. "We lost some leaders, so it's my turn. I think we have some other leaders. Jerico Nelson, Jake Bequette and Isaac Madison have been around and they are doing a good job of leading and getting everyone in the right places. Tenarius Wright is, too."
Wright said, "I just want to help the younger guys. I can tell you we have some good ones. Robert Thomas can really play. We had a couple of new installs that might have got him today, but he's picked everything up pretty quick. I saw what he could do in the weight room and in our early workouts. He came in here like he'd been doing it all along."
Without pads, it was hard to get a true picture of pass protection. But it was clear that ends like Wright and Bequette gave some of the new offensive tackles all they could handle. Brey Cook had his good moments, but also found himself beaten by the top flight SEC ends, a strength of last year's team. The offensive line will get a chance to get into the physical part of protection when pads are added Thursday.
For the first two days, it was more about the wideouts going against a retooled secondary. Jerry Mitchell continues to work with the first team at boundary cornerback with Darius Winston battling Madison at the field corner slot. Madison said it's going to be a battle that helps the team.
"We know that this is the kind of competition, me and Darius, that is going to get us all better," Madison said. "It doesn't really matter. I think I can do it and (Darius) thinks he can. It'll be good to get us both better.
"And we know that no matter how it turns out, there's a good chance we are all going to be out there. Nickel and dime packages require all of the cornerbacks. And you could end up playing anywhere. Look at it. Tramain Thomas could be a corner. Eric Bennett was a corner. He's back there with Tramain at safety. You have about five or six guys playing in the secondary and all of them cover like corners. That's what you have to have against the teams we play and the styles we play now. Everyone looks like a corner."
Well, maybe Mitchell doesn't look like a corner.
"No, he's over there at boundary corner and he looks more like a SAM (strongside) linebacker," Madison said. "He's over there for his size."
Mitchell said he is 6-1 1/2 and 214 as he began spring drills. He said that size will play into what he's asked to do at boundary.
"To play boundary, you need to be a banger," he said. "In high school, I didn't think any wideout could get past me. I'd bang them and take them out of bounds. That's the way I try to play. In high school, I didn't let them off the line."
That was what the UA staff saw in bowl practices before the trip to New Orleans.
"Ohio State had physical corners, big guys," Mitchell said. "I played them in practice and inserted my own little game into what they did. I think that's what the coaches saw.
"I like this side. The field corner, that's a little different. Those guys over there, they are on an island."
Madison said that's about right.
"You don't have much help," he said. "It's a man's land. There is a lot of man coverage. You better be able to come downhill and make a tackle, but it's cover first.
"What we are trying to get to on the field side is seeing who is going to step up. That's what spring is all about, finding out who is going to step to the front. We are all trying to do that every day. The coaches tell us we are the bricks. We are trying to find as many bricks back here as we can this spring."
Willy Robinson has retooled the secondary.
Photos by Marc F. Henning, Hawgs Illustrated
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