Some bone jarring hits by a couple of defensive players highlighted Tuesday's practice, but the decision to abandon pink jerseys drew away much of the focus from the play on the field as Arkansas completed its seventh day of spring football workouts with a two-hour session inside Walker Pavilion.
The national spotlight has found Arkansas football after head coach Houston Nutt decided to quit the short-lived practice of putting pink jerseys on players who loafed in practice. Nutt made the decision to change the jersey color for loafers after some cancer survivors complained that pink was the color used to highlight breast cancer victims. The story made the front page of the websites for several news gathering organizations and was the focus during part of the Rush Limbaugh radio program.
Nutt, who has been active in fund raising efforts to cure breast cancer, said his team would no longer use those jerseys.
"They weren't really pink, but faded, faded rose (dye)," Nutt said. "We got some calls from a few people who said they were victims and were sensitive to what we were doing. I wouldn't have ever done anything. I know about that disease from within my own family and the folks who battle it are very, very brave. I never would have done it had I known the reaction."
The reaction from a few breast cancer survivors asking to discontinue the practice came Monday. On Tuesday, there was a backlash in the other direction.
"We've received many, many calls from people who said they didn't see it as a problem and encouraged us," Nutt said. "Some even said it brought attention to their fight and they didn't mind."
At least one breast cancer survivor attended practice Tuesday wearing a pink T-shirt with a pink Razorback stitched in the middle. Holly Connor, a subscriber to HawgsIllustrated.com, said she was upset about the furor and didn't see a problem. She approached Nutt as he entered the practice field to thank him for all of his efforts and wished him well in his battle to eliminate "loafers" from his team in a light-hearted message.
"I'm just hoping we can turn this into a positive," Holly said. "We want this to be used to help the cause (for breast cancer research). I've talked to the director at the Northwest Arkansas Susan B. Komen Foundation. They are supportive of Coach Nutt and his efforts. They didn't see anything Coach Nutt was doing as a problem.
"At any rate, breast cancer survivors do not OWN the color pink. When I walk in the events, I proudly wear pink. That's what it means. But, that's not to say others can't use pink for other reasons, too. We use it and many other colored ribbons to signify different things in our organizations. I just don't see the connection and why some might not like it. I'm for it. Coach Nutt has helped our efforts in every way. To question this use of the color pink is wrong in my mind."
Interestingly, the Hogs were donned in only red and white, the school colors, on Tuesday. Nutt said it may be that they don't need multi-colored jerseys anymore.
"I think the message (to our players) has been sent," Nutt said. "We don't have many (loafers) now. Coach (Reggie) Herring had a good idea and it worked. We have cut down (on the loafers) over the last three or four days."
Herring, the new defensive coordinator, was probably pleased with Tuesday's workout. There were several hard hits despite the rules that prohibited tackling to the ground. Tailback Peyton Hillis was caught flush by defenders in the full pad workout during the team session.
"Desmond Willians got him once, staggered Peyton really good," Nutt said. "Don't know that either went to the ground, but it was an explosion. Then, in another part of the same session, Kevin Woods came in and caught Peyton pretty good. Those were real licks. The defense came alive after both of those. We had a lot of enthusiasm."
In team sessions, contact is allowed, but the Hogs are not tackling to the ground except in Saturday scrimmages and middle drills. There may be fewer middle drills the rest of the way after the Hogs lost yet another lineman on Tuesday.
Offensive tackle Matt Gilbow sustained a knee injury. Nutt said the extent of the injury is not known, although he did not think it was a severe injury.
The Hogs finished the practice with a starting group consisting of walkon Lance Thompson (converted from tight end last week) and Robert Felton at tackle, Tyler Morgan and Stephen Parker at guard and Kyle Roper at center.
"Chase Pressley is still out (after a concussion Monday)," Nutt said. "On defense, Fred Bledsoe is still out after his (concussion on Saturday). Those two may be out for a few more days. You have to be careful after a concussion.
"That means we are really short on bodies. We were going to have a short scrimmage Thursday, but we probably won't now and we may not do as much middle drill. We skipped the middle drill today."
Nutt said the Hogs had a better day throwing and catching Tuesday after the wideouts had an off day Monday.
"We dropped a lot of balls on Monday," Nutt said. "Yesterday was not a good job of catching it. We caught it better today. The quarterbacks threw it better, too. Today that was our emphasis.
"Our offensive line keeps getting thinner. Kyle Roper, Robert Felton, Stephen Parker and Tyler Morgan are playing well. Our tight ends are doing some good things. Marc Winston, Wes Murphy and Mason Templeton are coming on.
"Defensively, Vickiel Vaughn keeps showing up. Darius Vinnett and Michael Coe are better fundamentally. Marcus Harrison is running to the football. He plays extremely fast. Weston Dacus has stepped up. Pierre Brown and Sam Olajubutu are solid, too, at linebacker.
"Vaughn started making a move in our winter classes. You saw a more mature look with him to start those workouts and he's been very physical this spring. He's made a lot of good tackles. Randy Kelly is the other one back there stepping up. Dallas Washington has a lot to learn back there, but he's gotten better
"At wideout, Cedric Washingotn has been a standout. Of course, Marcus Monk is so consistent. Anthony Brown is starting to get more confident."
Quarterback coach Roy Wittke liked the way his guys threw the ball on Tuesday after the off day on Monday.
"I'd say we are making steady progress," Wittke said. "We definitely made some progress today."
Wittke provided an assessment of the three scholarship players at his position.
"I'd say Robert Johnson has made progress at staying put under pressure and delivering the ball. He has made some good throws under pressure this spring. His demeanor and relaxed nature has been good this spring. He's made improvement in that area this spring. He's definitely more confident than he was in the fall and he made some progress there in the fall.
"Alex Mortensen has been struggling a little with his confidence. He's putting too much pressure on himself. He needs to remember that he is still a true freshman in his first spring. He had a better day today. He does some things well. He is as good as anyone we have at staying put and taking a hit and continue to deliver the ball under that pressure. He did that in the scrimmage on Saturday. He took some shots Saturday.
"Cole Barthel made some big strides lately, especially Friday and Saturday. He is probably further along physically than he is mentally. Physically, he is starting to get his feet set and throwing better. He's still behind mentally, and what I mean by that, he doesn't know what to do yet. We want our QBs to play fast and he can't do that. It's a simple thing. He doesn't know it yet. There are a couple of things he does know and you can see him doing them very well. He can't play fast yet as far as the thinking part. But when he does certain things, you can really see his potential. As far as a natural thrower, Cole may be the best. Robert has more strength, but Cole is more natural. Alex isn't as natural, but he may be more efficient.
"We've been throwing the deep ball a lot in one-on-one and Cole and Robert have a little more range, but Alex has a little better sense of timing. All three threw some nice balls in the deep part of the workout today."
Grid Update, 4/5
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