There was heavy installation of the third down packages on both sides of the ball Thursday, as Arkansas practiced for the fifth time this spring. The Hogs moved inside Walker Pavilion as thunderstorms rolled through the Ozarks, all in preparation for Saturday's open scrimmage.
Fans are invited to attend the scrimmage, set for Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The scrimmage is set to begin at approximately 11:45 a.m. Parking is available in Lots 72 and 73 across Razorback Road from Gate 1 and in Lot 44 north of the stadium. Fans will enter through Gate 1 on the southwest corner of the stadium beginning at 11 a.m. Seating is only available on the west side of the stadium.
Korliss Marshall was on the sideline in sweats with his playbook opened as Arkansas began practice on Thursday. The sophomore running back did not participate and did not appear to be injured.
The practice, in full pads, was spiced by a brief confrontation by linemen as the rest of the team worked on a third-down package in the team portion of practice. It was mainly a shoving match and was over quickly.
The practice consisted of heavy doses of third-down installation, with defensive coordinator Robb Smith going heavy with cornerbacks in the back end of his "dime" package, with Alan Turner, last year's leading tackler, at an inside linebacker slow and outside linebacker Braylon Mitchell at defensive end.
Smith said he's looking at lots of combinations in the secondary in the dime look because he knows that's a package that will be needed against a good number of teams on the Arkansas schedule next year.
"We are trying to find our best 11," he said. "The depth chart is very fluid right now and we are moving guys around in the back end. The nickel and dime have a lot of extra DBs on the field. You match personnel. Then, you end up with the best 11. We like to mix it up with personnel and try to dictate to the offense what they are going to do with our personnel packages."
In the base defense, Turner was joined at safety by Rohan Gaines. The second team safeties were Davyon (Sleepy) McKinney and Tiquention Coleman. In the nickel, Smith used three cornerbacks along with three safeties. Jared Collins, Carroll Washington and Tevin Smith were the corners in the dime, with Gaines, McKinney and Turner.
Both receivers and defensive backs made plays in Thursday's work. Will Hines, McKinney and Collins batted down several passes. Demetrius Wilson and Cody Hollister both came up with big plays in the passing game. Alex Collins also made some big plays on screen passes and on wheel routes as quarterback Brandon Allen enjoyed a solid day.
"I think it's been a good spring for both the offense and the defense," Smith said. "There are some reps that one side wins and then the next one the other side wins. I've seen a lot of positives for Arkansas football this spring."
But there has not been any live scrimmages. Smith said it's hard to assess defensive play until there is a full day of live tackling.
"We've worked on our fundamentals and we've had contact, but we haven't tackled to the ground," Smith said. "I want to create turnovers. We've worked hard on drills that teach takeaways. It's stressed in almost everything we do. But it's hard to know where you stand and get a great evaluation of defense until you tackle.
"I want to see if we are physical and we can also get people to the ground. It's hard to assess safeties until you tackle to the ground. Stopping the run is so important. You don't know if you can stop the run until you tackle live in a scrimmage. So we are going to find out about some things Saturday."
Linebacker Brooks Ellis thinks his new coach will like what he sees.
"I think he will," Ellis said. "I think we've stressed the fundamentals and we understand our fits. I think we can tackle. We are excited to show him. We look forward to Saturday.
"I think my coaches, both Coach Smith and Coach (Randy) Shannon, like what they see from us so far. I think it's going to be a good day."
Smith said the defensive backs have been progressing in the installation of the base and third down packages.
"I've been pleased with all the guys," he said, when asked specifically about McKinney's progress at safety. "He's earned the right to compete at safety for that spot and so far has done well."
As far as the first team, it's clear Turner and Gaines are ahead.
"Alan has really gotten a chance to show us what he can do this week after we got back from spring break," Smith said. "He's a guy who has played. He's a veteran guy and he brings an intensity with his preparation and with what he brings to the field.
"Gaines has had some success here and we like what we see from him so far. We want to see who can make plays at safety Saturday."
At cornerback, Smith said he's been impressed with Mitchel's play. Mitchel struggled at times last year. He's shown some leadership through five practices this spring.
"No question," Smith said. "When I got here, I tried to give everyone a clean slate. Since I've been here, Tevin has asserted himself (in a leadership role). He's done well.
"But we are still trying to figure everything out as far as who is going to play back there. We are rolling guys through whether they are at safety or cornerback and trying to find the ones who can make plays.
"This scrimmage will be big in an evaluation sense. We are really looking forward to seeing who can take what we've installed and understand situations, down and distance and play the game."
Smith said spring break was an evaluation tool for him, with lots of evaluations of the first three days of tape. He said he dodged some unloading at his new home.
"My wife is probably not real happy with me because we moved spring break and I just got up each day and came to the office and left her there with all of those boxes," Smith said. "But it gave me a great opportunity to really evaluate where we are.
"I can tell you we've made a lot of progress in getting our scheme installed, but we also know we have a long ways to go."
New defensive line coach Rory Segrest sees progress, too.
"I love the effort and the physical way we are playing," Segrest said. "We hope to see that they can play fast Saturday. We want to find out if they can cut loose.
"I like what I see in the ownership of the system, the packages that we've installed. We looked at some dime stuff today and there was a little bit of a learning curve, but I thought execution was good. We want to see if they can carry that to the scrimmage now."
Leadership has been heavy on senior Trey Flowers up front, but Segrest said there are others showing positive steps in leadership by demonstration.
"Some of the younger guys are leading although I'm not sure they know that," he said. "By their effort and the way they work, they can be leaders, too, and I see that in them. I see continued improvement all spring in all of those guys.
"We have to improve. We aren't going to get all the way where we want to be this spring, but I think we have a good start and we can get there if we keep working. I've a great feeling about what we've done so far."
Redshirt freshman Tevin Beanum has made a good first impression.
"He's a young guy and is working hard," Segrest said. "I'm excited to see him Saturday, to see if he understands down and distance and how it effects what we do. He's one of those young ones who shows the way by example in the way he works."
Thursday Grid Update, 4/3
Hawgs Daily Top Stories
Scout On the Road: SeptemberScout takes a look at some of the top prospects we saw in person during the month of September...
Scout FootballYesterday at 2:00 PM
Longhorns Preview Oklahoma StateTexas offensive players discuss the Longhorns' upcoming game at Oklahoma State to kickoff Big 12 Conference play.
Horns DigestMonday at 6:21 PM
Louisiana CB 'Real Close' to a DecisionIt may not be too long before one of the top cornerbacks in Louisiana makes his decision. Four schools are high on his list and you can get the latest here...
Scout FootballMonday at 6:15 AM
JC defensive back talks ISU official visitOver the weekend, Iowa State played host to one of their top 2017 targets in the current recruiting cycle in Paramount, CA three-star JUCO CB Keisean Nixon. This visit for the…
AllCyclonesSunday at 6:34 PM