Arkansas coach Houston Nutt saw lots of smiles and excited faces among the 102 players reporting on Sunday for the start of fall workouts. Nutt hopes to have two more happy campers by Monday afternoon when the Hogs take to the field for their first practice.
True freshman Cedric Logan and junior college transfer Randy Kelly were not present Sunday after the UA admissions office sent word on Friday that not all of their paperwork was satsifactory. Logan still needs a final stamp from the NCAA Clearing House. Not all of Kelly's paperwork has arrived from his junior college.
"We think both will be able to practice by Monday, and if not by then, by Tuesday," said Nutt. "Our people have talked to the folks at their schools and with the NCAA and think all of their documentation will be fine and they can be with us soon."
Could it be something that prevents them from playing this season?
"We don't think so," Nutt said. "You never feel good when it's not all okay on the first day, but our people don't see any big problems. We don't think they'll miss much time."
The Hogs spent much of Sunday filling out forms in the team meeting room at the Broyles Center.
"I'm sure they are all bored by now," Nutt said. "There are so many pages to fill out. We also gave them drug tests. It's a long, boring day. We'll have our first real team meeting tonight and I'll address them then. Then we'll break out into groups with offense and defense and get started."
The Hogs have more meetings and details to cover at an NCAA mandated session early Monday. The first practice is not scheduled until 3 p.m. Monday.
"We are going to take our freshman out first each day for the first five days and give them about 40 to 45 minutes by themselves," Nutt said. "We'll go through about eight periods with them each day and then add the upperclassmen about 40 minutes into the day. We'll try to go over what we are doing that day with the freshmen and then hold them accountable when the others join them later in the practice."
Nutt said he liked the old days when the freshmen could report three days ahead of the varsity. That way, "They could get a good course on what was expected and what would happen. We can't do that anymore."
Because of the thin nature of some positions, freshmen and newcomers will be on the early depth chart and may be in starting slots on special teams.
"If you look at what we have in the secondary, some of these young ones are going to start out on the second team just because of default," Nutt said. "That means we'll have to go pretty fast. You'd like to redshirt all of them, but that's not reality this year.
"We are going to try to get some of them ready. You'll see some things different. In the past, we just told them to come and try to get on the bus, but it was a bonus if any did. This year, we are going to have some of them. We'll be trying to get them ready. For example, when we check their rooms at night, we may have a pop quiz for them. We'll ask them two questions before they go to bed, probably. No more than two. We'll see what they've learned and see if they are getting ready."
Nutt said because of the need for help at some positions, he said he will challenge the freshmen each day a bit more than in the past.
"We want to see where this bunch is mentally, how mature they are right now," Nutt said. "A good number of them have been here this summer and that will help them. They know where things are and have been around the older players.
"For them, and for all of them, really, we need them to be good listeners. This is a new learning curve for the freshmen. They've played on Friday nights, but this is a whole different level. Things are so much faster. And, it's a different grind. We need to see how they handle it when it's going fast and they are really sore."
It's hard to go fast this first week. The NCAA has changed things over the past couple of years to protect players from heat exhaustion.
"We can only work in shorts the first day, then we start adding pads," Nutt said. "We can only practice once on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Our first day of two-a-days comes on Friday. The first day of full pads isn't until Saturday."
Not surprisingly, the first scrimmage will arrive on Saturday, the first day of full pads.
"We'll have some sort of pads added each day as the week progresses," Nutt said, "but no full pads until Saturday. We'll scrimmage then."
Nutt is pleased with the condition of the squad. He said players hit their target weight or were close to it. He said right tackle Zac Tubbs, who weighed 383 late last season, reported at close to 350 pounds. He was at 348 a few weeks ago.
"He was at 353 on last Tuesday and I don't know what he is today, but he's good," Nutt said. "He has worked hard this summer and he looks real good to me right now. We would like to get him to 340 by the start of the season."
Nutt had special praise for his nine seniors, with an extra healping for quarterback Matt Jones.
"We saw some real leadership from Matt this summer," Nutt said. "I really started to notice some things he was doing about mid-summer. He came to me then and wanted to see if we could make pass skeleton more exciting."
At Jones' suggestion, the Hogs held their usual twice-a-week workouts this summer as usual and then picked sides for seven-on-seven competitions on Friday.
"Matt thought that would be more fun," Nutt said. "I think that was the first time I can remember him stepping up with that kind of a suggestion, something that was going to really help us and turned out to be a real valuable idea. To me, that was huge.
"Matt reported to me and kept me up to date with what was going on all summer. I know we had the most players we've ever had for summer workouts. I think Matt was a big part of what happened this summer. I think he saw the writing on the wall, that he was a senior and needed to be a big leader. His organization set things up."
Of course there were others who provided key leadership. Dowell Loggains, Steven Harris, Jeb Huckeba, Clarke Moore and Marcus Whitmore were among others who stepped forward as leaders.
"We had good leadership last year, but not as many players around in the summer," Nutt said. "I think the difference this year is that you see a bigger hunger. These guys want to be good. They want to do what is necessary to step up and lead this team.
"The team in the past couple of years might have had more athletic ability, but this team has more hunger. They can't be better athletes, but they can come together better as a team."
Nutt said he senses a lot of excitement in the air from the start of the season to some changes in facilities. New practice fields are ready along with a new dormitory.
"We have 65 of our players in the new (Northwest Quad) just up the hill," Nutt said. "It's a beautiful building, and our players love it. You can tell the mommas really love it. It's a great place with private rooms and quarters for three and four players with a living area for each group. I think it's going to be a big boost for us.
"The practice fields are wonderful. The new grass field is ready, and the new artificial turf is almost ready on the one beside it. We don't have the end zones with the lettering down yet, but we'll have about 90 yards ready. The end zones aren't here yet."
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