Tuesday Grid Update, 8/27

It's about gaining leverage as Arkansas rolls towards the season opener Saturday against Louisiana. Can the Hogs maintain a lower pad level against the Ragin' Cajuns?

Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman didn't like the end, but Tuesday's practice held to an outstanding start for a long period as the Razorbacks work towards Saturday's season opener against Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns.

The goal when the Hogs began spring practice in March was to lower the pads and become a physical downhill football team. Have the Hogs gotten there yet as far as winning the one-on-one battles with improved leverage?

"I think so," Pittman said. "I hope so. We couldn't emphasize that phase of the game more than we have since we've been here. I think they understand the concept. We have worked hard on leverage, technique and pad level. I think we play with a much lower pad level.

"We are ready to play a game now. I think the entire team plays with lower pads. I like what I've seen.

"I thought we were ready to practice today. We started awfully good today. I think we wore down a little at the end. That's a little bit mental. But I think we looked really good for a long time today."

The next step is to play a game and develop the chemistry that playing well against an opponent produces.

"We need to play someone and get some confidence," Pittman said. "We all need to play a game."

Right tackle Grady Ollison will be getting his first collegiate start. Pittman said he's seen great progress from the 6-5, 304-pound sophomore.

"I think for him, it's going to be about confidence at this point," Pittman said. "Grady has held his weight, had a great camp. He's been really good. He's got strength and power that he didn't have in the spring and he's kept that quick twitch athletic ability that we liked from the start. I think he's going to get there."

It's not just about the offensive line's pad level. That's the point of emphasis throughout the team. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has seen that progress every day."

"Sam's group and the tight end group with Barry (Lunney), we really wanted to see them play with lower pads and that's happened," Chaney said. "Sam and Barry have worked their butts off to get that done. I think the players decided to do it. It's evident that they are playing with lower pads.

"I think our backs are playing lower. Jonathan Williams, our running back, is like so many young players. They play too high. That was his problem in the spring. Maybe we still have a ways to go there, but he's running behind his pads much lower."

Running backs coach Joel Thomas sees his entire group lowering their leverage.

"You can always do a little better," Thomas said. "But I think our guys are lower. I think when you get in a game you get a little lower. It's either that, or you get smoked. They are not coming to thud you up in a game."

Thomas thinks he's got four running backs and two fullbacks game ready. All are more physical players now than at the start of camp. The top four running backs are Williams, as the starter, followed by Alex Collins, Kody Walker and Nate Holmes. Kiero Small and Patrick Arinze are the bell cows at fullback.

"I think we've had a consistent camp with all four," Thomas said. "The whole group has natural backs. On paper, it might look like a young group, but I don't buy that as an excuse. They are prepared to play well."

True freshman Alex Collins was the rage in the first scrimmage. How does he compare now to that glimpse that fans and media got that first Saturday? Thomas grinned a little as the question developed.

"He was pretty good that day, wasn't he?" Thomas said. "I see a guy with great big-play potential. He's been very consistent in camp. No, he was pretty good then. I think he's been that all along."

Ollison tackled that question.

"Alex Collins is a unique individual," Ollison said. "He's brought some finesse to this offense. He's given us great depth at the running back position. I think he's a great athlete with a lot of talents. It's clear why he could play so many different sports in high school. He can do a little bit of everything and you see that on the football field."

Ollison said he's had no problem holding his weight through camp.

"With what they feed you here and the way we hydrate, I kept it," he said. "I was 304 after practice tonight. I was at 312 a few days back. I'm as big and strong as I was at the start of camp and I feel good at this weight."

What's his power like?

"I think I've got power and I think I've got power beside me," Ollison said. "I've got a big man to hook up with on double teams, Big Brey Cook. He's 6-7, 330 and is very strong. I think we can move a man when we hook up in a double team. I feel like I've got the power to block a defensive end.

"But it's more than power. It's leverage. As far as pad level, it's something we hit every day. I think I hear Coach Pittman say, 'Leverage, leverage, leverage" every single day. I know it doesn't matter how big you are if you don't get under someone's pads. Strength doesn't help you if you don't get the pads down. That's the way we've been coached, pads down and leverage."

There were questions for Chaney about quarterback Brandon Allen. How will the sophomore perform as the leader of the offense?

"I'm excited for a lot of different reasons as we approach this first game," Chaney said. "I've got butterflies in a good way because I'm so excited to see Brandon Allen play. I'm tickled to death with the way he's practiced and developed.

"I feel good about his preparations. I feel good about the way he's going to play."

Allen said it's a definite different feeling than last year when he subbed for the injured Tyler Wilson in two games.

"The biggest thing we have the rest of the week, just polish the offense," Allen said. "And get a lot of rest. As far as me and my expectations, I just feel like we have a lot of talented players around me and I know what I can do.

"I'm much more confident and it's about where to go with the ball in the offense. Last year, I wasn't too confident. I didn't know that. I think I've learned this offense. Now, it's about learning the defense we are going to face each week."

Chaney said his expectations are simple.

"You guys have asked a lot of questions about expectations, about this or about that," he said. "All I want is to see our guys show up, complete and win. That's my expectations. I want to see them do what it takes to secure the victory. That's all we need to do, win."

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