That was some of the main takeways from the newcomers final solo practice Sunday afternoon in Walker Pavilion. Head coach Bobby Petrino, just as he did last year, used indoor facility for the last time the newcomers worked alone. They will combine with the varsity starting Monday evening.
The varsity had worked outside Sunday morning. Petrino moved the newcomers inside for the 3:30 p.m. practice with temperatures soaring to 106 degrees in the Ozarks.
John L. Smith, the special teams coach, is always a fun interview. He is not opposed to a prank. At the close of his media briefing Sunday he was asked about Hocker, the sophomore placekicker.
"He's packed his bags and gone home to Russellville," Smith said. "I know it for sure since I helped him pack. He's gone."
It was suggested that Smith might be packing, too. That's when he broke into a smile.
"You know, Zack's done great," he said. "He has really put a lot more on his plate this fall and he's ready for it. He's done really well. He's handled placements well, he's added kickoff duties and done well with that. And he's also working as the backup punter. He did well in that role in this morning's workout.
"He's got so much confidence. I really love him. When you get a good kicker, they have enough confidence that you can coach them. By that I mean, you can give them criticism and he understands it is not personal. He takes it and works on it. That's the way Zack is. Those good kickers are a little bit like that. They have so much confidence that nothing really bothers them.
"Hocker had as good a rookie season as anyone could imagine, but he hasn't changed his approach. He's still doing the same things and he's done really well. I like the way he's going at things. We ask them to get a lot of work on their own. And when we get in to meetings, we look at what they have charted. It's been very good."
Smith said there's been plenty of work on special teams, including some punting work Sunday morning.
"Dylan Breeding hit some really big ones this morning," Smith said. "He's doing well."
The special teams aren't finalized. Smith is working a lot of newcomers along with veterans.
"You get a lot of people ready," he said. "Then, when (head coach Bobby Petrino) sets the depth chart, you know who you might have from the newcomers. Some of those guys might not redshirt and they will be available. There are guys like Keante Minor from that freshman group we are looking at as a return man. It could be that (Darrell) Smith is on some units."
Gilbert was working at middle linebacker during spring drills after the freshman enrolled at midterm, but with the arrival of some junior college help at middle and weakside linebacker it could be that he returns to his high school position. He had been mainly a defensive end in a three-point stance in high school. He had what looked like a good day working with defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell on Sunday.
Smith said they are looking at Gaines both at cornerback and the jack/hybrid linebacker spot.
"He's doing well at corner and we are not moving him away from there, but this is just a chance to evaluate a lot of guys at as many spots as possible to see how you get them on the field the quickest," Smith said. "We are thinking about him as someone to help at the (jack) behind Jerico Nelson and Ross Rasner."
Ollison was a highly regarded signee as a defensive end out of Malvern, but he's gotten looks on both sides of the ball in the first week. That's now over. He donned a red No. 50 jersey Sunday afternoon to concentrate on offensive tackle.
"Coach Caldwell pulled me out of meetings and told me today," Ollison said. "He said, 'You are now an offensive tackle.' I didn't get angry. I didn't say anything but 'that's good.' I'm ready to be an offensive tackle. I'm full-time tackle now, all offense. I will tell you after one day of it, it's a grind.
"At defensive end, you get three or four snaps and then someone rolls in for you and you get a little rest. That's not how it is at offensive tackle. You just keep grinding play after play and just stay working. I will say being in this building this afternoon was a nice break. I don't know how hot it is in here, but it's so much nicer than it is outside."
McKinney had several big plays Sunday afternoon along with several other wide receivers. It was a good afternoon throwing and catching with both Brandon Allen and Jacoby Walker, the two quarterbacks working with the newcomers. McKinney, the Forrest City product nicknamed Sleepy, snared a Walker throw with his left hand outstretched after curling in traffic in the middle.
Head coach Bobby Petrino immediately put his hands together to clap for McKinney as he jogged back to the huddle. He drew the freshman receiver to his face and put both hands on his shoulder pads for some praise.
"You just need to make plays out here to get noticed and that's all I was trying to do, get noticed by him," McKinney said. "Coach gave me a tap on the back there. It was like, 'Son, you are real.' That's all I want to do, get noticed."
Allen said that is not the first one-hand grab from McKinney in camp. The quarterback said, "He's done that before out here. He can make plays."
Allen had some bright moments in Sunday's workout, but he also had trouble with the center exchange in some running game drills early in the workout with redshirt freshman Luke Charpentier.
"There has been some of that for me in camp," Allen said. "I can do it, though. I was in a lot of shotgun in high school, but we did have a lot of plays under center my senior season. I'd say my sophomore and junior year it was almost all shotgun. But I think it was probably 25 percent under center last year and I didn't have any problems. I can do that. We are going to work on it."
The crispness has improved in the throwing and catching in the first four practices with newcomers.
"I think it was just a matter of us learning the plays," Allen said. "The quarterbacks and receivers are getting comfortable with the plays and that has helped us. You see confidence growing and we are playing faster."
That appeared correct. Freshman running back Kody Walker has put together several good days working with the newcomers. His quickness and the lanes he took in his downhill running seemed more aggressive Sunday.
The Hogs will have only one practice Monday. It's set for 6:30 p.m. on the grass intramural fields.
Morning Workout with Veterans
The veterans practiced for almost two hours Sunday morning. It was the second day of shoulder pads and helmets. No leg pads yet. Hence, no live tackling. They do have plenty of contact and the linemen are in an aggressive mode in their drills. They are building up to live work as far as tackling as they will add leg pads soon.
Temperatures were slightly cooler and the field just a little damp after a thunderstorm dumped rain for almost 90 minutes over night. The veterans were given one cool-down break after two were called in the afternoon practice Saturday when temperatures were at 106. Temperatures were in the 80 at the start of the morning workout and around 90 at the end.
Jerry Franklin returned from a one-day excused absence to attend to family affairs at home. He was working with the first team at middle linebacker. It's clear that the next middle linebacker is Robert Atiga. He looks like he understands a good deal of what is happening. He is bigger than Franklin and very active for his size. There is finally a bit of depth to the linebackers.
Alonzo Highsmith is still working with the ones at will linebacker, the other inside slot. He can shoot a gap and also noticed him running with Greg Childs on a deep route in what the offense thought would be a mismatch. Highsmith can really run.
Childs had a good day, though. He looks much more fluid than he did Thursday when he started the day fine then began to favor his repaired knee in the last half of the workout. He no longer does that coming in and out of breaks. I saw him jump to a new speed Sunday than I'd seen in previous days. Confidence appears to be returning and he's comfortable in the workouts. That is obvious from his body language.
Knile Davis appears razor sharp in his cuts and is full of speed not seen in the spring. He's the Knile Davis that ripped SEC defenses in the second half of the season. He's getting nice blocking from juco transfer Kiero Small, the fullback built like a cannonball. Small did catch Terrell Williams with a block that turned the linebacker sideways in the hole just as Davis slipped by on the other side.
The offense made some plays against the defense, but there are still times when the coverage is tight and the quarterbacks are going to have to throw it into a tight space. They are doing that more than they did in the first practice, so they are improving. There is a sprinkle of option in the offensive mix. Whether that's for the benefit of the defense (that has been the case in the past), or that's in the scheme for the offense will have to wait until we see games.
Zach Stadther seems to be limping a bit on and off the field, but he's taking his reps and not giving in to whatever is bothering him. He looks fine during plays.
Darius Winston is improved. He's more phsyical in the individual drills and can really run. He appears to me to be exactly what was advertised coming out of high school. He appears to be a fine player and has that great recovery in his legs. Elton Ford continues to impress after coming back a bit leaner for fall camp, just as coaches had hoped. Ford and Winston shore up the tight safety and boundary corner position and should solidify this defense, just as Highsmith is the last piece of the puzzle at will linebacker and Atiga provides that missing depth at middle linebacker.
Tyler Wilson and Brandon Mitchell both had some nice throws. Mitchell had an option pitch that was on the ground and Wilson tried to run it on a bootleg (Franklin got to him) on a goal line play that Bobby Petrino judged was better suited for a throw. Wilson completed an out route against tight coverage the sideline to Marquel Wade.
Both Wilson and Wade drew praise from the coaches. Wade, who took a bump as the ball arrived on that highlight, has impressed through four days as someone who can provide Joe Adams-like quickness and speed as a slot receiver.
This is a good team. It's getting better as the practices click past. I believe this defense will be able to control the pace early in the season and give this offensive line some time.
With pads on, it's clear this offensive line can win some battles. Brey Cook seemed to have a good day at offensive guard splitting time with Grant Cook with the ones and then taking long turns at weak tackle with the twos. It's clear he's in shape, because he may be getting as many snaps as anyone on this team because of that swing duty. If he goes to the ground (and that is rare), he pops up quickly and hustles to the huddle. Someone not in shape could not get up that quickly and back into his spot in the huddle. Grant Cook also did well in his turn.
There did not appear to be any injuries in the morning workout for veterans. No coaches or players were available to the media after this session.