Corners Find Strength in Numbers

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas sophomore Chris Houston wasn't supposed to make it through 15 spring practices after undergoing surgery for a double hernia in the off-season.

But the 5-foot-11, 180-pound cornerback, who was listed at the bottom of the pre-spring depth chart because of the injury, hasn't missed much practice time. That's because Houston refuses to let a nagging spring injury cost him playing time at one of Arkansas' deepest positions next fall.

"I've got to try to stay on the field for 15 practices to learn everything," Houston said. "I don't want to be behind when we come back (next fall)."

Houston realizes there's no room for error with six other cornerbacks -- senior Darius Vinnett, juniors Michael Coe and John Johnson, sophomores Michael Grant and Matterral Richardson and redshirt freshman Shedrick Johnson -- trying to impress position coach Bobby Allen this spring. In fact, the Hogs are deep enough at the position that coach Houston Nutt is experimenting with Coe, a returning starter, at receiver this week with the possibility he'll play there next fall.

That's a big difference from 2004, when Allen had only three scholarship cornerbacks -- Houston, Coe and Johnson -- to work with during spring practices.

"It's like night and day," Nutt said. "That's just been a good, deep group and they've been able to stay on the field."

In addition to the numbers, Arkansas also is thrilled to have some experience.

Coe, who collected four tackles on special teams in 2003, entered last fall as the veteran of the youthful group. So it was no surprise that Coe, a junior college transfer (Vinnett), redshirt freshman (Houston) and two true freshmen (Grant and Richardson) took their lumps with a defense that finished 11th in the Southeastern Conference and 65th in the nation against the pass (216.9 yards).

The biggest blows came in consecutive October losses at Florida, at Auburn and against Georgia. Arkansas surrendered an average of 333.7 passing yards a game and a total of eight touchdown passes in the three losses.

"We knew that there was going to be a transition on that back end from two years ago to this year," Allen said. "I think it turned out to be an awfully good defensive league as well, which makes it look worse. But it was a growing experience.

"The good thing is that we've got everyone back and hopefully that can work in our favor a little bit."

On paper, the unit already is as deep as 2003, when Coe was the sixth member of a deep group that included Ahmad Carroll, Lawrence Richardson, Eddie Jackson, Marvin Jackson and Bo Mosley.

But Houston said, after last season's experiences, it's more important for Arkansas' cornerbacks to begin performing like their predecessors.

"We're really deep," Houston said. "And all of us are good. Everybody just needs to learn their spots so that if one gets hurt or something, somebody else can come in.

"We've got the same talent or better. But those guys, they had character about themselves. If all of our secondary can get a character about themselves, have a little swagger, then the defense as a whole will be better."

Spring Nears End
Nutt said the Razorbacks concentrated on the two-minute drill during Thursday's practice and hit on several late-game scenarios that "sometimes you take for granted when you've had a quarterback around here for four years."

Arkansas will return to the practice field this afternoon for an abbreviated, 45-minute session that will focus on special teams. It will be the last workout before Saturday's spring-ending scrimmage in Razorback Stadium.

"They're a little sore, a little beat up so we're going to come out in helmets and shells (today) and work extensively hard on the kicking game," Nutt said. "We're getting ready for Saturday and will try to put on a good show for our fans and hopefully get a little bit of our step back."

The scrimmage, which is expected to last between 40 and 50 plays, will begin at 11:30 and is free and open to the public. Fans that attend are asked to enter the stadium at Gates 1, 6, 10, 12, 15 or 16.

The scrimmage is part of RazorFest, which is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. Events include live entertainment, autograph sessions and a 7-on-7 game featuring former Razorbacks.

Bledsoe, Pressley Back
The Hogs got defensive tackle Fred Bledsoe and guard Chase Pressley were back in full pads Thursday for the first time in more than a week. Both sustained concussions earlier this spring and were limited to non-contact drills Thursday.

Nutt said Pressley still is experiencing headaches. Bledsoe said he is, too. Both will likely be sidelined for Saturday's scrimmage.

In addition, receiver David Thompson was held out of Thursday's workout after getting kicked in the head during pass skeletons Tuesday. Thompson watched from the sidelines and will likely be sidelined the rest of the spring.

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