Matt Jones was at practice Friday, but the real news was the five-for-six passing by Robert Johnson in a 52-play scrimmage to conclude the day.
Jones wasn't involved in any of the contact since he must work without pads two days by NCAA rules. He wore a helmet, a green No. 2 jersey and sweat pants in his first practice of the spring. It was the fifth day of spring drills for his teammates.
Jones did throw the ball in the early segments of the drills, including the one-on-one sessions, but didn't cut loose on any passes. He said his shoulder felt fine and he looked forward to getting some work with his teammates in live drills in a few days.
Asked if he gunned any passes Friday, Jones said, "No reason to. I was just chilling and hanging out with the guys today."
Houston Nutt said he wasn't surprised by Jones' arrival at practice despite plenty of speculation that he might not return throughout the week.
"There was no confusion with us," Nutt said. "I talked to Matt three times this week and he said since Monday he'd be here Friday."
Jones said he still will miss some spring time to spend more time in a Thursday afternoon education class that he's missed all winter to play basketball.
"I told my teacher that I'd be in her class after spring break, and I'm going to do that," Jones said. "She's been real good to me. She's let me go after half the class all this semester. But the deal was to be in it from start to end after spring break."
Asked what he's done this week, he said, "I had two tests to makeup and some other class room things to do, but the main thing is it felt good not to have anything besides school work to do. I've not had a free moment since I came to college here as a freshman it seems."
Jones skipped as he went from drill to drill and seemed to be relaxed and carefree. He laughed when he was asked afterwards if he knew he was the subject of much coffee shop talk the past few days while sitting out spring drills.
"I don't care what people say," Jones said. "I've said that before and you know that. I don't care what people think or say. I will say it was nice not to have anything (in athletics) to do this past week."
Jones kept to himself for most of the workout, but was seen giving Johnson some advice early in the day.
"I didn't say much to him," Jones said. "He's doing fine. It's obvious he's improved a lot since I saw him throw last when we were practicing for the bowl. He had a very good day, it looked like to me."
Nutt agreed, but didn't want to read too much into any success against what was a makeshift secondary. Johnson's completion came against the second defense. There were no scholarship players in the secondary during those plays.
After a sack stopped the first possession by the first offense, Johnson completed a 43-yard pass to Cedric Washington that was just a short dump and a long run by Washington down the sideline. Johnson scrambled in from 5 yards out to complete that TD march.
On the next possession, the first play was a 62-yard touchdown bomb from Johnson to Carlos Ousley down the middle of the field. Ousley was 5 yards behind the walkon safeties and Johnson fired a bullet to his numbers.
The next time the first offense took the field, Johnson led them to the end zone on a five-play, 65-yard drive. There was a 12-yard completion to Jared Hicks and a 31-yard go route to Chris Baker. The secondary was comprised of walkons.
The first team defense, operating against the second and third teamers on offense, did not allow any first downs. Most of the running plays on those possessions were handled by Farod Jackson, moving to tailback with Dedrick Poole on the sideline with an injury. Jackson made more than 2 yards only twice in 10 carries.
The last 20 plays of the scrimmage came in goal line situations. The first offense mopped up, scoring on all four possessions. De'Arrius Howard scored twice. DeCori Birmingham had a TD run and Johnson passed to Brandon Kennedy in the flats for the other score. The second offense did manage one touchdown against the starters with Jackson powering over from the 1-yard line.
Nutt ended the day by placing the ball at the 2-yard line with the first offense going against the first defense and setting the down marker at third down. Kyle Dickerson made 1 yard on the first play. Howard powered over for the final yard on fourth down with the offense inserting Robert Felton at right guard and Gene Perry moving outside to give the Hogs two tight ends.
"We had good enthusiasm," Nutt said. "It's obvious we are getting better. From the first day to today, I'm proud of the progress. The guys are improving.
"Our offensive line created some holes and some creases, some of them the backs didn't hit. But they were there. I thought De'Arrius Howard had a very fine day. You can see Brandon Kennedy gaining confidence. He's way ahead of where he was last year. Farod Jackson is having a very good spring, too.
"Defensively, Jeb Huckeba, Elliott Harris, Clarke Moore and Desmond Sims are getting better. We have a long way to go, but we are improving. Our players are working hard and trying to get better. You look at someone like Vickiel Vaughn and he's a much different player now than he was last year. He's having a good spring. Michael Coe is a starting corner and he's having a good spring.
"Robert Johnson threw the ball very well today. He is very accurate and he had some velocity on the ball, some real rpms. We are not going to whoop and holler and do flips about going 4 of 5 today (because of the depleted state of the secondary), but by the same token Robert put the ball on the money. We've got to improve there, but he's getting better."
Running back coach Danny Nutt raved about Howard's progress this spring. Howard carried six times for 37 yards on Friday.
"De'Arrius is outworking everyone," he said. "I love his attitude and focus. He's playing very fast now. He's so much quicker and faster.
"What was wrong last fall? It was between his ears. He wasn't focusing. I think what happened to Cedric (Cobbs) after his freshman year happened to De'Arrius. It happens to a lot of sophomores. They think they are there and they don't focus. He had a good first year and thought he was there. Others were busting it and passed him by. He's working now.
"I think what I'd say about De'Arrius now is that he's taken his game to another level. He's been very, very good for the first few days this spring. I'm pleased.
"That last play on the goal line, the fourth down play, De'Arrius grabbed every offensive linemen by the face mask to get things focused before the touchdown. He wanted the ball and wanted to put it in the end zone. You love to see that in a back."
Nutt wouldn't say the same about Birmingham, but that may change soon.
"The first two days weren't so good (for Birmingham)," Nutt said. "But we had a little talk and I'd say he was much better the last two days. DeCori looked good today. He's coming back strong now, I think. We'll have to see what he does the rest of the way, but I bet it's good. We need him. You'll need three to get through next year. We all know that."
The Hogs will hit the practice field for a correction day Saturday. The workout is scheduled for 10 a.m. The Hogs will take off the pads Saturday after their hard day Friday.
Friday Grid Report, 3/26
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