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State of the Hogs:
The last couple of years, I went to Arkansas spring football workouts and didn't bother to pick up a roster sheet from the sports information office students scattered about the north end of the practice field. Didn't need it.
I knew most all of the players on the first and second team and their numbers. Plus, my wife got tired of washing my slacks with those roster sheets in the back pockets with the resulting white junk clinging to the entire wash. So I'd decline those roster sheets, usually.
Can't do that now. Wow. I'd be lost at practice. I'm learning a new name every minute. Sometimes I've tried to put an old name and number to a new player. I chided Kevin Trainor, the Hogs' sports information director, about messing up and listing the departed Marvin Jackson on this year's spring roster by mistake. I pointed at a line with "3-M. Jackson" on the sheet and asked for him to correct it.
"Clay, that is Martel Jackson," Trainor said. "He really is. They decided to give him No. 3 so they wouldn't have to change his name on his locker. Marvin Jackson IS gone."
Don't know if there is any truth to the reasoning, but it blew my mind for a few minutes at spring practice.
Nothing against Martel Jackson, but I bet Bobby Allen, the Hogs' secondary coach, would love to have Marvin Jackson back for one more year. He'd probably be one of the players hyped for All-SEC honors. Well, maybe not, but he'd probably be featured on the Hogs' spring media guide.
The cover of the one handed to us Tuesday featured a shot of Matt Jones in the center, flanked by photos of DeCori Birmingham, Jeb Huckeba and Arrion Dixon. Those are all solid, experienced players, but I wonder if they will make any preseason All-SEC teams? Perhaps not.
Yes, it's a different cast of characters, and a different attitude. It was strangely quiet at practice. Even coaches and players noticed. Clarke Moore, a redshirt junior and one of the oldest Hogs, told me, "It's quiet because the players are hanging on the coaches' every word. We have a lot of young players and they are listening to make sure they get it right."
The defense didn't get it right at the end of Tuesday's workout and felt the whip of their coaches because of it.
A lot of days, the defense lines up against a pretend offense, with only a quarterback on the other side, usually simulated by Dave Wommack. The Hogs' defensive coordinator takes a pretend snap with linemen falling to the ground to do pushups and the linebackers and secondary running into their pass coverage zones. He tosses a high, soft pass that should be easily intercepted. The entire defense then sprints to the end zone as if to block for a runback.
They botched it twice Tuesday, once with the defense lining up short a cornerback. Another time two defenders looked at each other while the pass fell to the turf, a no-no. Then, when they did manage an interception and a run to the end zone, the defense did a mock celebration dance in the end zone with a linebacker pointing the ball at his teammates circled around him as if it was a machine gun. They all fell down.
Reporters and fans watching thought that last little ditty was funny and there were plenty of chuckles heard among their teammates, too. There were no smiles among the coaches. They exploded, especially Allen. They promised plenty of running after they were done. As promised, the defense ran and ran afterwards. Some of the position coaches followed that with even more discipline, possibly for missed assignments during the scrimmage earlier in the afternoon.
It was not clear whether or not the running was because of the blown finish to the final drill of the day, or because of the end zone celebration. Perhaps it was because of both.
Either way, it was clear that many things are different on the practice field this spring. And it may be more than just a bunch of new faces at the top of the depth chart. I bet there aren't any more end zone celebrations.