Defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said the video from Tuesday night's scrimmage revealed "young guys making mistakes," but it appeared those same players were correcting things in Thursday's practice.
"We'll get it right," Haynes said. "Even from that scrimmage to today, we got better."
Safety/outside linebacker Ross Rasner was one of the defenders knocking down passes. He said the work against the pass in Thursday night's practice reflects a different mindset this season in that area.
"We feel more comfortable breaking up passes in practice this year," Rasner said. "Guys are not afraid to make a play anymore."
Asked to elaborate, Rasner said, "In the past we were supposed to step away from the receivers and let them catch the ball. It's a different attitude now."
Haynes said it's just a matter of adding pieces to the puzzle. He said there was a focus on stopping the run in Tuesday's scrimmage, but that shouldn't be the only focus.
"We are always going to stress playing the run first," Haynes said. "But we want to react to the pass, too. But the key is winning on first down. I'm pleased with that so far."
The Hogs got one of their injured starters back Thursday, although not all the way back. Linebacker Tenarius Wright has sat out two days after sustaining a concussion Monday night. He went through some individual drills, but was wearing a yellow jersey and didn't participate in much of the workout.
"We are probably being just a little bit cautious," said Haynes, noting that went for both Wright and Alonzo Highsmith, out with a hamstring injury.
Haynes sees improvement in the safeties. He said there are "four to five in that group" that have made satisfactory progress.
"We gave up some big plays in the passing game," he said. "We are playing the pass better and better."
Haynes said there was probably some excitement on play-action pass plays where some went to the run too fast.
"In the play-action, we have to do a better job of realizing our keys," Haynes said.
Rasner said that has been the focus the last two days.
"We have some young players who can play downhill," Rasner said. "Guys like Otha Peters and A. J. Turner are just used to playing the run. They are big, physical guys and they can stop the run. They are getting good reps and they are coming downhill. They are going to have to learn to play the pass, too, and also keep playing the run."
It wasn't as if the defense dominated. But that side of the ball produced more plays and got to more passes. Still, there were some wonderful catches by the receivers, including two more long catches by Cobi Hamilton and a highlight-reel catch by true freshman Mekale McKay that drew cheers from the players.
Still, Haynes liked what he saw in many periods on the day. He said young safeties Rohan Gaines and Alan Turner, along with junior Jerry Mitchell, continue to get better. Eric Bennett, the leader of that group, remains sidelined with a leg injury.
"Rohan makes a play or two every day," Haynes said. "Turner is our number one nickel and doing a great job. It's a real exciting group. Jerry shows flashes, too."
Haynes also praised true freshmen Defonta Lowe at safety and Will Hines at cornerback.
"Lowe is getting better every rep," he said. "Hines has made some awesome plays. He shows flashes. I use that word a lot, but he's always in position. They are catching some balls on him, but I'm pleased with Will. He can help us this year."
As for help, Haynes may be getting some from an old set of eyes. Retired Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock has watched practice and even sat in on some meeting.
"It's been awesome," Haynes said. "I wanted to get him out here in the spring and I was hoping to have him around some."
It reminded him of a time when another retired defensive guru would sit in on Ohio State meetings in the past.
"We wanted to use (Heacock) the same way, maybe help evaluate personnel," Haynes said. "He's a defensive genius. He can sit in the room and watch things."
Haynes said Heacock would be in Fayetteville through Saturday's two workouts, the second scheduled to be a scrimmage.
As far as the scrimmage, Haynes said the goal will continue to be centered around tackling.
"We want to stop the run," he said. "That means doing a good job of tackling. When you get big plays, it's usually because of a missed tackle.
"We also want to stress that it's not OK to make a mental mistake. Offenses are good enough already. We don't want to help them."