Spring Grid Workouts Begin

Arkansas launched spring football drills Monday behind a black curtain. The first of 15 drills was behind closed doors, after the first 15 minutes.

Arkansas closed all but the first 15 minutes of a long workout to open spring drills Monday with head coach Houston Nutt claiming it "an enthusiastic day."

For the first time possibly ever, Arkansas will close a good portion of spring drills to the media and the public. However, Nutt said he would allow the media to watch his major scrimmages, including possibly two this week.

"We will probably (scrimmage) some late Thursday and we will bring you guys (the media) in for that," Nutt said. "We'll also allow (media) to watch all the Saturday scrimmages.

"We appreciate the media here at Arkansas. We get great coverage, but we could tell that it was different today with the tarps around the field and the concentration was a little bit better because of it."

The fences around the practice fields south of Reynolds Razorback Stadium have now been covered by a black tarp that is slightly transparent if you stand close. Apparently, that tarp will be made taller later this spring, possibly 20 feet high.

"We did it strictly for the benefit of our players and coaches," Nutt said. "It helps us zero in. We don't have a camera right there beside you. They don't see those cameras now. Most of the (college football) world is like this, no media. I think it definitely helped us today."

The Hogs were missing three key players Monday because of travel problems relating to some canceled flights out of Atlanta, Ga. Kyle Roper, Randy Kelly and Michael Grant were all slated to catch a Sunday evening non-stop from Atlanta back to Northwest Arkansas. That flight was canceled and the Monday flights were all over booked.They thought they would arrive Monday night.

"That's not their fault," Nutt said. "They will be back here soon. They tried their best to get on the flights this morning, but it couldn't be done."

One old hand from the media ranks, upset that practices were closed, opened the post-practice session with Nutt by asking who "alledgedly looked good." Nutt laughingly said that the offensive line "alledgedly looked good. Guys like (offensive guard) Stephen Parker showed their maturity."

With starting center Kyle Roper absent, Skye Petersen took all the snaps with the first team and had a good day, Nutt said.

"We are not in a learning process in the line," Nutt said. "These guys have played or been around. You could tell that."

Nutt said the practice was lively, especially so at the start. The length of the workout -- about 40 minutes longer than a typical spring workout -- caused things to drag a bit at the end.

"It was a nice day and we decided to stay out here and see how much we could get in," Nutt said of the sunny, 68-degree day, a huge improvement over cold, rainy conditions over the weekend. "The key is whether or not we practice as well Tuesday. That's what I want to see. Today we stressed fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals."

Concerning the quarterbacks, Nutt said it was obvious that all "were trying awfully hard. They were over throwing at first and we missed a lot of passes. But as we went along, they got better. You could see that they were very anxious to do well."

Nutt said sophomore Robert Johnson had a nice first day, but he noted that true freshman Alex Mortensen improved as the day progressed.

"Alex and Cole (Barthel) both did some good things," Nutt said. "Alex made some nice throws to Marcus Monk. I thought Marcus Monk had a good first day. Cole didn't do badly, but you could tell he had been away from it."

Quarterback coach Roy Wittke said he was excited to get his three young signal callers on tape. He liked what he saw of all three and said Barthel has good arm velocity.

"I don't want to comment much on where they are until I see the tape," Wittke said. "It's just hard to tell much right now. We aren't even in pads. How they throw today might not tell you as much as when you see them with full pads. That changes things. But Cole has some velocity. You have to remember this is his first day and he is just a true freshman.

"I just want to see how they progress. I want to see them battle each day and see how it goes."

New defensive coordinator Reggie Herring eluded the media at the end of the workout, possibly leaving while Nutt was still addressing the assembled writers and broadcasters in a longer than usual session.

Cornerback coach Bobby Allen did stay around to visit with the media.

"It was a good first day," Allen said. "I was pleased, but we have a long way to go."

Allen didn't have Grant available, but he added a cornerback. John Johnson, who played Husky back last year, has returned to cornerback, his spot last spring.

"I thought Michael Coe had a nice day, but it's very early," Allen said.

Defensive ine coach Tracy Rocker also has some new players. Desmond Sims has moved from inside linebacker to defensive end. Darren Rogers has moved from outside linebacker to defensive end. Marcus Harrison has moved from end to defensive tackle.

"I wouldn't say Desmond and Darren look like ends just yet," Rocker said. "But it was just the first day. My job is to get 'em to look like ends and we will get that done. We've got 14 more practices to do that. I didn't think we were in great shape today. It was a warm, long day and I thought you could tell it. We'll get better."

Running back coach Danny Nutt was pleased with his numbers for the first day, but they will dwindle as the week progresses. Dedrick Poole and De'Arrius Howard, both coming off surgery, were able to work on Monday, but won't when full pads are added.

"We have them as long as we aren't in full contact," Danny Nutt said. "We started out with plenty of tailbacks, but we won't have them all spring. The numbers will change.

"Kyle Dickerson took the first snap, but we looked at all of them. Peyton Hillis has lost some weight. The baby fat is gone. He's much leaner. I like the way he looks. We are going to use him a lot of ways this spring. This will be a great spring for Peyton."



Reggie Herring puts his linebackers through their paces.



Tracy Rocker works the defensive line with the black tarp behind him across the practice field fences.

Photos by Clay Henry

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