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State of the Hogs:
Arkansas football players have been afforded their week off following final exams and most of them are back in Fayetteville to begin summer jobs. If they haven't done so already, they will soon return to the weight room to prepare for the coming football season.
No, it's not required for them to be in the weight room, but when I visited with players this week to gather information for our summer football preview it was obvious that they felt the urge to begin their preparations.
"We are ready to get back to work," said quarterback Robert Johnson. "Most everyone is already back after just a few days. I went home to see my family, but I had an urge to get back at it and I'm back."
Arrion Dixon said, "We aren't expected to be in the weight room just yet, but we know we don't need to have a layoff and we're all here to work."
Interestingly, even the newbies are going to be here soon. Many of the freshmen have asked to come in early to work with the upperclassmen. It appears that almost all of the newly signed candidates for the secondary will spend some time with the varsity this summer in Fayetteville.
"I think they know that some are going to be on the two-deep pretty quickly, so they want to get a head start on the conditioning and strength work," said Bobby Allen, secondary coach.
Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said coaches usually suggest that the freshmen wait until August to come to Fayetteville, but it is different this year.
"I've watched film of each of our new safeties and corners about seven times to just see if I can find out as much as possible on these guys," Wommack said. "I keep seeing things that tell me they can help us this year, but what you don't know is how their shoulders will hold up when they try to tackle SEC backs. That's why you want them to get in here and spend time with our conditioning and strength coaches to build up those rotator cuffs and shoulder joints.
"I know they have the athletic ability to play in this league, but they haven't faced backs like we see in the SEC who are that fast and can also run over you. For a high school player, the shoulders just give out when they try to tackle someone like that. You don't want to count on them to help this year, but the reality of the situation is that some of them are going to play. So this year may be different in that we need these young players to be here this summer and it looks like that's what will happen."
There is some experience and talent available at safety, although neither Vickiel Vaughn (at free safety) nor Lorenizo Robinson (strong safety) have ever started at those spots. Where the Hogs are really thin is at cornerback where Michael Coe, Chris Houston and John Johnson have little playing experience. Coe is rated as a starter on one side, while Houston and Johnson were rated even by Allen at the other corner following spring.
"Corner is where we need to find someone in a hurry," Wommack said. "We have to be really good at figuring out where to put the new guys so that we have adequate time to train them. You don't want to be moving these new guys around during two-a-days. Every day counts."
It may be that Robinson moves from safety to cornerback if it appears the Hogs don't get the right answers from newcomers.
"Robinson has the best combination of body and athletic ability that we have and can play corner," Allen said. "We could still move him. We are going to get John Jackson back and he's had some experience at strong safety. That could enable us to move Robinson to corner."
Some might argue that the Hogs will have enough to be two deep at corner without moving Robinson.
"That's true, but most of our packages require three corners and some of them call for four corner types," Wommack said. "So you might be a starter as a dime or nickel back and be on the field almost all of the time depending on the offenses we play. It's all about matchups and speed in trying to contain today's offensive packages."
Offensively, quarterback coach Roy Wittke was excited this week because it appears all of his quarterback candidates are going to spend the summer on campus.
"We'll have a lot of guys to throw to our wideouts in our summer workouts," Wittke said. "Even our true freshman, Alex Mortensen, is going to be here for a good bit of the summer. It looks like Landon Leach is making a fine recovery and will be full go by two-a-days and will be able to do most everything with the other guys this summer.
"Matt Jones is working hard on his throwing and feels great. He's got a lot of confidence in his shoulder right now."
Wittke's favorite Jones story right now concerns his post-spring fling with an intramural softball team.
"He asked me if he could play softball and I told him not to throw out his shoulder throwing a softball," Wittke said.
That was an obvious attempt at talking Jones and his loose shoulder out of the intramural gig.
"So when I see him, he told me his softball team was undefeated," Wittke said. "I asked, 'So I guess you've been throwing some lasers?' Turns out he played center field and did it without throwing the ball.
"I couldn't figure that out until he said when a ball came to him he'd just underhand it to the other outfielder or roll it in to the infield. No throws at all. That had to be a sight.
"I will tell you that Matt is excited that football is coming up. He's got his shoulder strong and healthy and we expect he's going to be able to do more throwing in practice than he's done the last couple of years. I'm proud of the work he's done on that shoulder."
That may mean Jones is more of a sight than SEC defensive coordinators want to imagine.