Tuesday Grid Report, 10/12

It's apparent that Arkansas will have some new starters on the field when it visits Auburn this weekend. The game is slated for 2:30 p.m. on CBS-TV.

After working on the kicking game outside during pre-practice, Arkansas went inside Walker Pavilion to get out of the cold, wet conditions for Tuesday's football practice.

It appears some new starters are digging in at three spots early in the week. Randy Kelly looks to be first at free safety, Titus Peebles at nose tackle and Matt Gilbow at right offensive tackle.

"We aren't naming any starters just yet," Houston Nutt said. "We'll evaluate for a couple more days."

However, Nutt admitted that Gilbow is ahead of Nate Garner at tackle at right tackle. Gilbow took almost all of the snaps at right tackle, even some with the second team, as Garner worked some at left tackle behind Tony Ugoh. Garner will be the backup at both tackle slots. The Hogs lost starting right tackle Zac Tubbs with a broken leg last Tuesday.

Kelly is working ahead of Vickiel Vaughn at free safety, but backfield coach Bobby Allen insisted that both would play against Auburn this week.

"Vickiel didn't play as well last week, and Randy did play well," Allen said. "But we will look at it on a series by series basis and we could have a change during the game.

"If you know how I liked to do it when I coached other positions, linebacker and at defensive line, you know that I prefer to roll guys and try to keep guys fresh," Allen said. "We've gotten healthy and added some depth since the start of the season and can do that now.

"What we have emphasized the last week is better fundamentals and playing fast with great effort. What I didn't like last week in that second quarter is that it didn't appear we were playing with great effort. The hand grenades starting going off and we weren't getting after it. We will stress that this week, getting after it and playing very, very hard."

Allen kept cornerback Chris Houston after practice for some "extra work" after the sophomore cornerback missed Sunday's workout because of travel problems. Houston missed plane connections on his return during the open date weekend after visiting his home in Austin, Texas.

"Chris has missed the last two weeks and he's behind in some things because of his ankle," Allen said. "I'm trying to see if he's full speed before we put him in the plan this week and to make sure he knows it all. That's tougher when you miss an important day like Sunday. It was a long, long teaching day and he wasn't here. I also was diappointed in some issues about communication. I was very worried because I hadn't heard he had missed (the plane). I'm like a parent. I think the worst when I don't hear anything. We had to clear that up.

"It does appear Chris is better with that ankle. So is Vickiel, Michael and Lerinezo. We are getting healthy after the open date and that is important."

Peebles is working ahead of Jeremy Harrell at nose tackle this week, although line coach Tracy Rocker said he'll continue to check for effort over the next few days in practice before naming a starter.

"I like competition," Rocker said. "I like what it does for you in practice and what it does in games. We have to set the tone for this game. We feel like this game, and all games, are in our lap. This game is not going to be any different than the rest of them. If we are playing well, the rest of the defense can jump on our backs and it will become easier. If we aren't clicking, it makes for a longer day.

"I see some young guys like Fred Bledsoe and Jamaal Anderson working hard to become more consistent in practice. But what I really want to see is their intensity on every play. Young guys don't understand that. I'd like to play more guys this week, but how they do this week will determine that. Titus Peebles is healthy and playing well right now, but we'll play Jeremy there, too."

Rocker, an Auburn alum, will be honored at halftime of the game after being inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame last spring.

"It's going to be a bit strange," Rocker said. "My priority is the football game. I am concerned about my players doing well. Coach Nutt talked to me about it and encouraged me to do (the halftime ceremony). He made it clear that I should.

"I haven't said anything to my players. I don't talk about anything in my past. I kinda just let them see what I'm about and to follow me as a coach. I'm more concerned with getting them to play with four quarters of intensity this week, than the way they played last week at Florida when we fell down for a quarter. I think we've gotten better this week, but we won't know for sure until Saturday."

The Hogs had an extremely spirited workout Tuesday. It appeared the squad was playing fast and hard throughout the workout.

"Our guys flew around today," Houston Nutt said. "We got in a quality workout. We might have worked outside today, but the forecast is for sun and 80 degrees. We wanted to get in a good day and not slip around outside. If we hadn't worked in the rain Sunday, we might have gone outside today. It was a little cool (51 degrees) so it was good to be inside and dry today.

"We know to expect a very good Auburn team. They are one of the best teams playing right now. Our guys are aware of that. Their defense has not allowed a rushing touchdown in 29 quarters and their offense is playing their best football since Jason Campbell's been at quarterback. He's got two quality backs and two very physical wide receivers.

"We are hoping for an all-day type of game and we want to be there for four quarters."

Nutt was pleased with his sophomore punter, Jacob Skinner, on Tuesday. Skinner rested a tired leg last week. After a so-so performance in the early part of the workout outside, he boomed several punts inside.

"I thought Skinner punted well," Nutt said. "We caught it well, too, with DeCori Birmingham returning punts."

Birmingham said, "That's fun. I haven't done it for quite some time, and I look forward to it. Getting out there by yourself with all eyes on you is something I really like and relish. I'm excited to be returning punts again."

Quarterback coach Roy Wittke said all of his quarterbacks had solid workouts. He said Matt Jones, who was one big bruise at this time last week, has recovered.

"If you saw him walk into the building last Sunday wearing a cutoff T-shirt, you would have seen all the bruises," Wittke said. "He handled the ball 50 times against Florida and he was really worn down and beat up.

"Just yelling the snap count in that noise like you have in this league on the road wears you down. Just go to your living room and stand there and yell in short bursts at the top of your lungs for three hours. See if you have trouble getting your breath. I saw him down eight bottles of Gatorade after the game without stopping. He never complained or let it affect his play, but he needed an open date after that game."

Jones looked strong, quick and fast during Tuesday's workout and was sharp in the passing game. He took off on one 50-yard sprint, circling the top defense and a display of great athleticism.

"Our quarterbacks are doing well," Wittke said. "Robert Johnson is learning and coming on. He isn't as comfortable in the (shot)gun as Matt, but he's getting better. His arm is very strong and improving every day. He tries to rush things in his mechanics at times when he doesn't need to do it. He's getting better.

"Alex Mortensen was sick a couple of weeks ago and lost some weight, but he's getting back to full speed now. We have worked hard with Alex to get his release and motion a little higher and it looks sometimes like he's really improved that. He's done well. He's still very inconsistent, like most young quarterbacks, but he's working so hard. He did a great job two weeks ago at simulating Chris Leak for our scout team, all the way to learning their hand signals."

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