State of the Hogs: Secrets

There are secrets and then there are double secrets. For sportswriters covering the Razorbacks, there are even more secrets these days than in the past.

There are the suspensions of Casey Rowlett and Scott Bridges from the baseball team. No one is saying why, and that's a bad thing. Most are suspecting the worst. Usually, when it's not so bad, we are told privately despite the federal privacy laws. We are almost always given the not-so-bad news so no one will think the worst.

When it's really awful news, the word doesn't come out so easily. It's not coming out on this case. My really good sources aren't talking this time. It smells pretty bad.

Then there is football practice. It's not usually as secretive.

But it's different this year. It's much more secretive. Black tarps cover the fences around the practice field and only some of the workouts are open to the media.

Then there's my scouting trip early Thursday to find turkeys for a future hunt. I left town at 4:30 a.m. in the cover of darkness and rode with my fishing and hunting buddy, Jeremiah Gage, along mountain ridges somewhere about an hour from home.

Yes, we found gobblers. We called them along five different ridges, pretending to be hens. The toms responded with a faint gobble from far below us. We'll be back in a couple of weeks when turkey season opens. You are supposed to keep the location of those gobblers a secret, citing the unwritten hunter's code.

But I'll tell you about football. I thought I had spies the first two days. They tried to answer my toughest question, whether or not any of the quarterbacks are ready for SEC play. But they wouldn't deliver the goods. They finally told me that it was hard to tell after two days and that there were plenty of incomplete passes.

Well, I guess that wasn't big news. It wasn't like they revealed that someone was on steroids or gave away a turkey roost.

I got a chance to check out those quarterbacks Thursday when sportswriters and broadcasters were led into the first scrimmage. It wasn't as exciting as hearing a gobbler answer my hen call at sunrise. In fact, it was pretty mundane. The good news was that the team did not have a turnover in the 25-play scrimmage and Robert Johnson may be adequate at quarterback.

The highlight was running back Peyton Hillis, not exactly a secret after making spectacular plays early last year before injuries to his backslowed him over the second half of the season. Hillis is fast approaching rock star status with the departure of Matt   Jones. He turned heads again Thursday, one of them belonging to Tony Wise, a visitor with NFL coaching experience.

"Where is No. 22 from?" said Wise, offensive line coach the last few years for Dave Wannstedt, most recently with the Miami Dolphins. "He's made a bunch of plays already. He ran over the linebacker in the hole right off the bat and he's been very, very good. He's a man out there. A freshman, you say."

Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt, who worked with Wise at Oklahoma State, wasn't surprised by Wise's comments. He thought Hillis put on a show, too.

"He made four big plays today," Nutt said. "He stayed on his feet. I don't think anyone ever got him on the ground. He's 238 and lean and ran very good. He looked today about what I thought he was going to be at the end of last year before he got his back busted up against Florida. He had a big day."

Hillis sounded humble when told those accolades from both Nutt and Wise. He said coaches put him in the right situations to make plays, then revealed a talk with his cancer-stricken grandmother Wednesday night as the motivation for Thursday's series of highlight-reel plays.

"My grandmother is covered up with cancer and very sick," Hillis said, pointing to his chest as the location of the cancer. "My dad and I were talking about that last night and about how disappointed I was with the way I played last fall. He said grandmother might not make it another day. I thought about that. I decided to go out today like it was my last day of football. It's just spring, but you better play each day like it's your last. That's what was on my mind today."

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