Arkansas opened fall football practice with a two hour workout in shorts and helmets with plenty of excitement around some of the newcomers.
"Our freshmen, a lot of them, have been here this summer and you can tell it," said Houston Nutt, the Arkansas head coach. "In the past, we could have the freshmen out here for a couple of days and we can't do that anymore. They have to learn the speed of the game, but we have a very good and athletic class."
Freshmen tailbacks Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Michael Smith all sparkled and took snaps with the first two teams as the Hogs worked in team segments.
"Those three are good looking and very smart," said Danny Nutt, the running backs coach. "They pick it up fast and they are learning it. They have that gear you are looking for. THey are extremely fast."
De'Arrius Howard, senior tailback, took the most snaps with the first unit, but he also split time with sophomore Peyton Hillis. Hillis also worked at fullback, wingback and was the motion back at times.
"Hillis isn't the same back," Danny Nutt said. "He's much better. He's quicker and he is liking what we are doing with him. You can see that."
At quarterback, Robert Johnson, Alex Mortensen and Cole Barthel all took snaps with the first team, but Johnson seemed to have the edge.
"Robert had a very good day," Nutt said. "He was accurate and he had RPMs on his ball, very good velocity. He's not full speed yet (after summer surgery for a sports hernia), but he'll be fine."
Nutt has not named a starter for the opener at quarterback and may not for a week or two. He said there is no time line for that decision. He does not think his summer surgery will be a problem by the opener.
"It will be the man who can keep from making the mistakes that keep the team out of the end zone, the one who can manage the clock, get the team out of a bad play," Nutt said. "He doesn't have to be super man. That's what we are looking for at quarterback."
Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring said it was a typical first day with plenty of excitement at the start.
"It was like a lot of first days, though, you leave the field disappointed," Herring said. "We did some good things and you see some athletic ability from the freshmen, especially those linebackers we are working on the second team. But as the day went along, we got tired and hot. We let the heat get us and mental fatigue set in. We started missing assignments. I talked to them about it. It will not be accepted the way we finished today."
Robert Felton took all the snaps with the first team at right tackle while Zac Tubbs, coming off an injury, moved to right guard. Tubbs was the starter at tackle before his injury. Line coach Mike Markuson suggested that the two of them discuss it, but thought that switch might benefit them and the team.
"I thought it went well today," Tubbs said. "Robert and I talked it over and it makes sense. I'm probably the stronger of the two of us. He's got the quicker feet and that makes him better at tackle. We are going to try it awhile and see how it works. It worked fine today."
Felton liked it, too.
"I can play any of the spots on the line except maybe center," Felton said. "So it's okay by me. Coach Markuson wanted us to talk it over and neither one of us is against it. I think it's for the good. But I know if Zac doesn't like guard, I can move back there and he can have tackle back and we'll be fine. The thing we are getting now is that we are working out our communication on our assignments at the line. We will have that down whether we play guard or tackle. I know we will be strong on that right side either way."
Practice was open to the public Monday, and will be open again Tuesday afternoon. The Hogs are practicing only once a day through Friday while some team members (over half) finish summer school. Part of Tuesday will be devoted to media day festivities. Nutt will address the media at 8:15 a.m. in the team film room before players arrive for interviews.
Peyton Hillis (22) works against a defender Monday.
Robert Johnson practices his technique.
Farod Jackson tucks the ball away in a drill.
Photos by Tom Ewart, HI.com.
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