Arkansas coach Houston Nutt changed up the practice routine because of a shortage of scholarship offensive linemen. Apparently, it gave the offense a boost and helped provide equal footing for the three-way battle at quarterback in Thursday's workout.
With injuries limiting the big bodies available in the offensive line, the Hogs split the team portion of practice into three segments with five-minute breaks between them. That allowed the top offensive linemen to take every one of the snaps so that one of the three QB candidates didn't have to work behind a group consisting of walkons.
"It was one of our better practices of the spring," Nutt said. "Our players flew around. We had five offensive linemen take almost every snap during the team segment. That allowed our quarterbacks to make a lot of progress, our wideouts to make a lot of progress and our running backs to make a lot of progress."
The five linemen who took the snaps were Robert Felton and Nate Garner at tackle, Stephen Parker and Tyler Morgan at guard and Kyle Roper at center. Skye Peterson did spell Roper at center for a few snaps.
The Hogs are missing O-linemen Jonathon Luigs, Cody Green, Tony Ugoh, Chase Pressley, Matt Gilbow and Zac Tubbs because of assorted reasons at this point in spring drills. Hence, Nutt canceled plans to scrimmage Thursday and announced that a scheduled scrimmage for Saturday is now canceled. The Red-White game set for April 16 has been scaled back to a brief scrimmage since the Hogs don't have enough offensive linemen.
"We can't go 60 to 100 plays now," Nutt said. "You can't put one group of offensive linemen out there for that many straight plays."
Line coach Mike Markuson said the Hogs found a way to get some significant work anyway Thursday.
"Today was our best day because of the way we divided the team segment of the workout," Markuson said. "We kept that first group out there. We went 12 plays, then took five minutes to rest them. Then we went 12 more plays, and took a rest. Then we finished up withy 14 plays in the last segment.
"We had been doing too much rotating around. We got to keep the same guys at the same spot. We weren't moving Robert Felton from guard to tackle between the two groups to have two lines. We have to keep the same guys at the same spots and we did that.
"We'll have a good front next year, a very good front. I have no doubt about that right now from what I've seen. We are coming in the front. Guys like Nate Garner, Tyler Morgan and Matt Gilbow are really coming on. Chase Pressley was really coming on before he got hurt. We are going to get all of these guys back and have something really good."
Markuson likes what he sees of his front on a daily basis against Reggie Herring's stunts, blitzes and changing defenses.
"I'm really encouraged based on what we've seen," Markuson said. "They are rocking and rolling, stunting, filling and slanting. It's hard to tell where they are coming from because they line up the same every play. They are in that 4-3 at the snap, but it changes. What we are seeing every day is going to help us next fall.
"It reminds me of our first spring here when we had to face some great defensive people like Melvin Bradley and Ryan Hale. Bradley was in constant movement. He was rocking and rolling. We are seeing that now and we are getting better at handling it.
"Guys like Stephen Parker, Kyle Roper and Robert Felton are having great springs. They are physical and playing well."
Herring appreciates the compliment. He returned some Thursday for the way the offense brought it in practice.
"They did a good job of picking up what we gave them today," Herring said. "The offense brought the tempo today and we didn't match it. We were up and down today. The offense got the better of us a lot today.
"We had the deer (in head lights) stare some today from some of our younger guys. They didn't have the speed. They were flat footed. Some of our older guys stepped up to the tempo, but some of the younger ones didn't.
"Our goal is to continue to improve, cut back on the loafs and be consistent with effort. I like what I see in that area. You aren't going to be perfect, but you want to keep getting better."
Can the defense do that with less scrimmage time.
"Oh, I liked what I saw today," Herring said. "We hit today. We just didn't tackle the offense to the ground. But we did tackle before the team session. We were tackling ourselves and we'll keep doing that. We may not tackle our offensive backs, but we are going to tackle ourselves every day.
"I think what we are doing is fine. We have the thud rule. You can hit as hard as you want and be physical. We have been very physical and we'll get all the tackling in scrimmages in the fall. We'll catchup then. What I'm pleased about is that we have the game tempo in practice with our offense and it's working fine. I'm sure of that."
Nutt thinks the Hogs will get what they need despite the restricted number of offensive linemen.
"We were having to put a tight end, Lance Thompson, at left tackle to get through a practice," Nutt said. "That's not fair to him. He needs to stay at tight end.
"What we did today gave the quarterbacks the right picture. The first line can pick up the blitzes and the stunts from the defense. It led to a good day. Alex Mortensen had his best day. He completed a lot of passes today. I'll be interested to see how he did as far as completions today. I think his numbers will be very good. He stood in under pressure and delivered some fine passes. He had a good day."
The Hogs will go with the same system again Friday and Saturday before taking Sunday off. Whether or not some offensive linemen will return early next week is still up in the air.
"We hope we get a few back, like maybe Jonathon Luigs on Monday," Nutt said. "Maybe Chase will come back, too. We don't know. Defensively, we hope to get Freddie Bledsoe back, too, on Monday."
The Hogs worked inside Walker Pavilion on Thursday because of wet conditions outside after two days of rain. The Hogs had been off on Wednesday.
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