State of the Hogs: Spring Finale

For the record, I don't care if Houston Nutt's practices are open or closed. It's no big deal. I'll do my best to cover the Arkansas football team either way.

However, if Nutt wanted 35,000 to attend Saturday's final practice of spring football, held along with Razorfest, this might not have been the best year to close them for the first time.

The UA coach asked me twice this week to pump up Saturday's scrimmage, no longer set as a spring game, but as a shortened practice followed by a 40-play scrimmage.

"It's going to be worth seeing," Nutt said. "Tell everyone to come. It's going to be good."

I know it's going to be worth a look and I'm excited about many aspects, but it is hard to hype a 40-play scrimmage when everything is such a mystery.

I bet Nutt told everyone in the media the same thing. I know why. No one wants to throw a party and have an empty house.

But there's no one in the media willing to say what it's going to be like after having their access snipped. We have to take his word on the state of the football team these days. We haven't seen enough this spring to have a real idea.

A week ago in this space I announced that I felt comfortable talking about this team. Why? To that point, we'd seen some scrimmage plays.

With Nutt's pre-spring plans in mind, I figured we'd see a few more scrimmages before the final one Saturday. It didn't happen. Except for a few plays at the end of the Saturday practice in week two, there have been no more scrimmages and no more access to the team.

I guess you could count the first 15 minutes used to loosen sore muscles. But it's hard to learn much in that span other than who is at practice and who isn't.

I told Nutt earlier this week if he wanted us to hype Saturday's events, let the media see pass skeleton drills where quarterbacks spend about 20 minutes each day throwing to receivers against the defensive backs. He smiled, but walked away without an answer. I guess that was an answer. I don't blame him, but I tried.

I didn't worry too much when it was announced that practices would be closed because Nutt promised media would have access to all scrimmages. They planned six or seven and that would have been plenty to form opinions.

Now, because of all of the offensive linemen out of practice, it's going to turn out to be three scrimmages for a total of around 115 plays with his first and second teams for the entire 15 days of spring drills.

After visiting with many of our subscribers on the HawgsIllustrated.com premium message board, the most rabid of Razorback football fans, it's hard to imagine that many of them are going to drive far to see Saturday's scrimmage. They don't think 40 plays are worth it.

I didn't argue much, but I did offer that I'm interested in more than the 40 scrimmage plays. It's also going to be a chance to see that 20 minutes of pass skeleton that I've missed, with plenty of passes from quarterbacks Robert Johnson, Alex Mortensen and Cole Barthel.

One figured his drive from Little Rock, at 380 miles, came to 9.5 miles for each play. He said he's going to play golf instead. He thinks his golf score will be around 85. His drive to the golf course is 16 miles roundtrip. That figures at 5.3 shots per mile. He liked that ratio better, especially at $2.21 per gallon at his local gas station.

Nutt doesn't have much choice. If offensive linemen Tony Ugoh wasn't at track and walking wounded Cody Green, Zac Tubbs and Chase Pressley were practicing, he'd have a real spring game. O-linemen Jonathan Luigs, Skye Peterson and Matt Gilbow also have missed spring workouts further clouding the picture.

So the decision was made not to play a real game because they couldn't have two teams with the current shape of the O-line. They could, but the quarterback with the second line wouldn't have much of a chance against anything fielded by defensive coordinator Reggie Herring.

And, yes, Herring is worth seeing. He provided some interesting moments in the Hogs' only other major spring scrimmage, the 60-play session at the end of week one. He got after SEC official Mike New for a pass interference penalty, then turned to the crowd to ask their opinion. As he said later, "It was a Kodak moment." There may be a few more involving Herring this Saturday.

This is a promise. Herring will put on a show. He is as animated as any defensive coordinator you'll see this year. He'll mesmerize fans the first few times they watch him.

I'll give you one more promise. There will be some collisions involving Peyton Hillis. He will hit someone hard. I will also wager that a defender will hit Hillis hard. It's happened several times in those 115 scrimmage plays already.

Maybe Nutt's right. It could be worth the drive. He assures that this scrimmage will provide a major test for his inexperienced quarterbacks. "It will be a major grade in their evaluation," he said.

And, it may go a long way in determining whether or not wideout Anthony Brown gets some snaps at defensive end in the fall. We were told that Brown dazzled with three sacks (not tackles to the ground) against mainstay tackle Robert Felton in a short 11-on-11 team session Tuesday.

That reminds me of what Nutt said when I asked him about his major concern early in spring drills, not enough speed at rush end. At that point, Nutt said, "I think we've found one with that burst in Desmond Sims. We need one or two more."

Could it be Brown, the junior redshirt? He played only one year of high school football and two years in a Mississippi JC. He's never played any defense until this week.

That's probably a reach to think the 225-pound Brown could make an impact next year against Southeastern Conference offenses. But I didn't think lightish end Steven Conley was going to tie the school record for sacks (14) to help the Hogs to the SEC title game in 1995.

I've given you a few things to watch for Saturday. That doesn't even include the Razorfest stuff that might fascinate some with the 7-on-7 action between some Razorback lettermen. I'll watch that. It might be the only pass skeleton I see for awhile.

CLAY HENRY IS THE PUBLISHER OF HAWGS ILLUSTRATED, A STEPHENS MEDIA GROUP PUBLICATION. HIS COLUMN APPEARS EACH FRIDAY. E-MAIL: CLAY@NWAONLINE.NET

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