Arkansas conducted its seventh practice of the spring today. Austin Allen, LaMichael Pettway and Ryan Pulley talked afterward.
Arkansas lost four talented wide receivers that played a lot of football in recent years. The four combined for 135 receptions for 1,877 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.
This year, the Hogs entered spring drills with only three receivers who caught a pass in a game last year. Jared Cornelius caught 32 for 515 yards and four touchdowns. Deon Stewart added two for 34 and LaMichael Pettway caught one pass for 10 yards and a touchdown.
Pettway is enjoying a good spring thus far after seven practices. Pettway talked about his spring thus far following Tuesday's closed practice.
"It has been real good," Pettway said. "Just knowing everything and letting everything slow down in my head. It's been real good."
I don't know if right word is frustrating, but how hard has it been to not play much in two years?
"Not necessarily hard," Pettway said. "I had five great players in front of me. Like I said letting everything slow down. Watching from experiences and learning from their mistakes. It was a plus for me sitting back and watching them play."
The coaches say you are a little more mature now, would you agree with that?
"Yes sir, like I said having five great players in front of me," Pettway said. "The Drew Morgans, Keon Hatchers and Dominique Reeds, it makes you mature. I mean sitting back and learning the playbook that helped me a lot."
There's good competition out there with you and the other wide receivers this spring. What's that been like?
"It helps me really knowing I've got guys behind me pushing me," Pettway said. "So that makes me go even harder every day."
How big are you now?
"Man, I weighed in at 227 today," Pettway said. "I'm actually trying to get back down to 220 or 215 range, 6-3 1/4 (height)."
What do you feel like your strengths at wide receiver are?
"Just being big really," Pettway said. "Being a big-bodied receiver."
You've got Brandon Martin, Jordan Jones, Jonathan Nance and Kofi Boateng who either redshirted last year or was at a junior college. Who has impressed you?
"Jordan is a speedster," Pettway said. "He's fast and when you have that asset that's big-time. Brandon is just a big guy on those 50-50 balls. He's coming down with them the majority of the time."
Quarterback Austin Allen is impressed with Pettway and Martin, who are two big wide receivers.
"Physical guys, go up and make catches," Allen said. "We're slowly bringing Brandon along. He's a guy who, once he learns everything, he could be a special play for us.
"And then La'Michael, he's been here, he looks like a different player this spring for us. Just his maturity level and his route running and catching and everything like that. Those are two guys we're going to really count on this fall."
What did you think last year when you came down with that touchdown pass against Alcorn State in Little Rock?
"It was very exciting," Pettway said. "It happened real, real fast. Like I tried to slow it down in my head, but that was just in the spur of the moment where it just happened so fast."
Did you have a lot of family at that game?
"I actually didn't," Pettway said. "I played special teams a lot so I wasn't really expecting family to come to that."
Did you get a lot of texts from friends in Nashville who saw that catch?
"Yes sir for sure," Pettway said.
Shutting It Down
It would seem that Arkansas has a chance to have a shut-down cornerback this year in junior Ryan Pulley. He finished fifth on the team last year with 47 tackles, tied for the team lead with two interceptions, one returned for a touchown, and led the squad with 13 pass breakups.
Pulley is back this spring and feels good about how the defense is coming along under Paul Rhoads. The switch to the 3-4 hasn't been a big adjustment for him and the rest of the secondary.
"It's pretty much the same to me," Pulley said. "We're still getting coached the same. It's a little bit different coverage calls from the last defense, but mostly it's still the same."
You obviously had a good season last year, but what aspect of your game do you want to improve on the most?
"Finishing at the end of the season," Pulley said. "I'd love to improve on that. The whole defense, actually, has got to finish. But for myself, my goal is to finish at the end of the season."
What helped you play so well last year?
My freshman year watching the guys in front of me, the older guys," Pulley said. "K-Rich got injured, so I had to grow up and step in at the beginning of the season. So I just progressed as the season went on and did what I had to do on the field."
You go against the wide receivers each day in practice. Has Jared Cornelius and rest of the group impressed you?
I'd say the whole group," Pulley said. "They're pretty young. They've still got a little growing to do, but I'd say the whole group. J-Red is leading that pack pretty good since last year's seniors left. He's stepped up to lead the pack."
Coach says you're really good, does that make you want to keep working hard?
Oh yeah. you've got to keep grinding," Pulley said. "That's part of the grind. I don't look forward to all the accolades and all the other stuff. I just focus on now. I'm just trying to get it and grind now."
Did you see the play in the Mississippi State spring game where the defensive back drilled his teammate? Do you have to focus on not hurting a teammate with hit in the spring?
"We don't think like that," Pulley said. "We just play football. In the spring, when we scrimmage on Saturdays, we don't plan on going out there and hurting out teammates. But it's football. It's a physical sport, so you've got to play it how you get it."
Do you feel maybe defensive backs get misunderstood for a play like that?
"Yeah, the refs, they're calling targeting pretty good now," Pulley said. "We don't really look forwards to that stuff, we just play football."
Last season, Austin Allen entered as the starting quarterback, but had very little experience. He went on to pass for 3,430 yards and 25 touchdowns. This year he enters as one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the SEC.
How has the spring been for you and the team?
"I think we've been coming out with a great attitude very day this spring and just have a good mind-set every day at practice with a lot of energy," Allen said. "I think it's been a lot of fun for all the guys learning. I think it's been a pretty good spring so far."
Allen talked about what he saw on film from Saturday's first scrimmage of the spring. He also had praise for a newcomer who caught his eye.
"Yeah, I think we have a lot of areas to improve on," Allen said. "I think we have a lot of weapons on the outside, a lot of weapons with the running backs.
"I mean Maleek Williams, he ran like a beast. I didn't know he could run like that. Just seeing him be able to go full go and seeing some of those guys getting the ball in their hands, it was a lot of fun for the offense. I think we just have a lot of areas to improve and we'll do that."
Another guy that had a great scrimmage was redshirt freshman Jordan Jones. What do you like about his game?
"He's a guy who can go," Jones said. "You can put him out there and he's going to run under it. The more he learns, the more he'll continue to get on the field. You saw on Saturday he might get a 10-yard route and turn it into 80. He's a guy who can do that for us."
What are some of the things as far as install this week on offense?
"Yeah, we put in red zone," Allen said. "On Saturday was the first time we've worked it. And we're probably going to go short-yardage here, goal line, everything like that. Just put in all the areas, and then continue working first, second and third down. Just trying to put in all our install and keep building the offense."
What do you want to see on film following this Saturday's scrimmage?
"I want to see what I saw on Saturday, a bunch of guys flying around and loving the game," Allen said. "Just having that energy out there. Just personally I want to see the QBs and myself go to the right place with the ball all the time, not make many mistakes and continue to put the ball in the playmakers' hands and let them do their thing."
Do you think the other scrimmages this spring will be shorter than the one on Saturday which was approximately 135 plays?
"Yeah, we knew it was going to be a longer scrimmage," Allen said. "We all had the right mindset coming into it. So we knew what was in front of us.
"Once it got to about 115, 130, we knew it was a long scrimmage. But I thought the guys handled it well, especially going through up tempo at the end of practice. Those guys, no one loafed. No one did anything like that. They kept playing hard."