Arkansas followed up a long morning with the media (thanks to some late arrivals from summer school) with a long day on the practice field on a hot Tuesday afternoon. After some lackluster performances in the opening day, quarterbacks Alex Mortensen and Cole Barthel picked up their games in the second day.
"Alex and Cole were both better today," Nutt said. "Robert Johnson didn't get as many snaps today. We are trying to spread it around and keep it equal and that's what today was about. Casey Dick got more, too. He had more in one-on-one and handled the entire period with the tight ends and the backs.
"We will try to give him a little more as we go along. We want to find out what he can do."
Johnson, listed as the first teamer coming out of spring, still limps through some drills after summer surgery for a sports hernia. But, he's been sharp overall. However, it was clear the other quarterbacks looked better when they were with the first unit.
"Today was about giving Alex some chances to be first and he did fine," said Roy Wittke, quarterback coach. "He was especially good in our third-and-10 segment. He made some nice throws.
"Sometimes going with the first group or being the first one out there gives you some confidence and we wanted to see how Alex responded to that. And, along the same lines we wanted to see how the others responded to him being one and them being somewhere else. We'll give Cole that same chance, too. We've said we will spread it out. They need to see what it feels like to be the one out there first and for us to see it, too.
"We are just trying to gather as much information as possible and help make the decision (on the starter.)"
The Hogs struggled at the end of the hot day with the soaring temperatures on the new artificial practice field installed last month. Nutt saw a few players come out early.
"Tony Ugoh did better today and he ran well," Nutt said. "It looks like Wes Murphy is struggling with the heat, too."
Brandon Kennedy also struggled with the heat, but returned to the drill to complete the team segment and run the sprints.
The stars of the sprints among the linemen were Jose Valdez among the offensive linemen. The 315-pounder was 15 yards in front of everyone in the gasser segment of the end of the day conditioning. Senior Clarke Moore led the defensive linemen throughout there part of the conditioning, running away from even the other defensive ends as the gassers ended.
"Valdez is from Milwaukee, up north, but we knew he could run like this and he's doing it in the heat, too," O-line coach Mike Markuson said. "You look at him and he reminds you of what Robert Guillory, the Iowa tackle, looked like when he was young. He's made in a V with a tiny waist. He's got no belly and he's going to get bigger. He can run like that all day, just a great athlete. You should see him jump up and dunk the basketball."
Freshman wide receiver Rod Coleman continued to impress, making catch after big catch. He stretched his long arms for several snags over the middle, going high to pull in some passes.
"Very impressive," Houston Nutt said of Coleman. "He reminds you of those Georgia wideouts."
During one segment, wideout coach James Shibest hollered at Coleman, "Rod, you are going to be a great one." Shibest doesn't usually yell that kind of praise during drills.
Running backs Felix Jones, Darren McFadden and Michael Smith -- all freshmen -- continued to dazzle. All have done things to catch the eyes of the head coach.
"They are all amazing players," Nutt said. "You see them do things that raise your eye brows every day. Felix Jones is very good, but so are the other two."
Nutt said the heat bothered the squad at the end of the day and the coaches made sure to give them a little extra running to add to their conditioning.
"Our concentration wasn't great all the way to the end," Nutt said. "So we gave them a little more today. You can always do a little more than you think you can and you can be a little tougher mentally than you think. We are pushing them pretty hard right now."
Offensive lineman Zac Tubbs, making a switch to guard, didn't run with the rest of the line in the conditioning, moving at a somewhat easier clip.
"We are being real careful with Zac right now because of those seven screws in his ankle," Nutt said. "We don't want to lose him now. We have some depth in the line, but he's a guy we have to watch a little right now after his surgery last fall."
Media Day Highlights:
Arkansas met with the media Monday morning. It was a nice cordial session this morning with Houston Nutt until someone asked about the closed practice policy. Houston was effective in outlining his reasons, then finished with "any more questions." There were none. Seemed to be a cool end to what had been a very good morning with the assembled media in the team film room.
Here are some of the highlights gained from talking with a lot of folks this morning:
* Felix Jones made the biggest impression among the freshmen with his coaches. Nutt said he had a high opinion of Jones before Monday, but that opinion "soared" as he watched him compete and practice with the varsity.
"I like all of these freshmen backs," Nutt said. "Any Division I coach in the America would love to have any of them. They are very good. All of them can do special things."
About Jones, Nutt said, "He's got the power and strength to run inside in the SEC and the wiggle to make people miss. He may not be 4.3 like Darren McFadden, but he's got a nice burst and can really cover some ground. I thought he was very, very good, but what I saw today made my opinion of him soar."
Jones picked Arkansas after a tight duel between Tennessee and Texas A&M. He said some advice from an uncle, former O-State hoopster Steve Jones, may have given Arkansas the boost he needed to become a Hog.
"My uncle played basketball at OSU when Coach Nutt was there," Jones said. "He told me that I would love Coach Nutt and the excitement he brings to the field. He told me to pick Arkansas and I would be glad I did. It was the perfect place for me and he was right. He played a lot of basketball with Coach Nutt and said he brought excitement to the floor every day."
Nutt said, "That was a key in the whole deal. I knew Steve and I knew he had helped us there."
* Nutt knows they will be able to run the ball this year, but also knows that the Hogs will see a crowded line of scrimmage with the threat of Matt Jones and the option now gone.
"Teams are going to make us play lefthanded," Nutt said. "That's the trouble. They will make us throw the ball. They don't think we can. That's where Cedric Washington, Marcus Monk, Peyton Hillis and our tight ends come in. Our quarterbacks have to hit those targets on time and take what is given. We worked hard on the screens yesterday.
"I like our tailbacks. We have a couple now who are home run hitters. That will help (back off the linebackers). We still believe in the experience we have at tailback (with De'Arrius Howard). But those young ones are right on their heels. It's going to be interesting with those young ones. They have great hands. They can play any kind of game you want. They are gym rats and love to play. They can catch it."
* Nutt said he wants an improved punting game, although he likes the fact the Hogs gave up only 80 yards in returns last year.
"There is some yardage to be gained there," he said. "In part, our gunners did a great job. We lost great ones the year before in Ahmad Carroll and Thomas Crowder. I didn't know how we would replace them, but Johnny Johnson, Chris Houston and Darius Vinnett did a great job last year. We punted with a lot of hang time and covered well. We want to improve our distance and keep that hang time for our gunners."
* The Hogs will leave Robert Felton at tackle and Zac Tubbs at guard through a few scrimmages.
"Tubbs has screws in his ankles," Nutt said. "He's a big body who has been in a lot of wars. He gives us exactly what we need at guard and we don't have to ask him to make that kick back move (protecting against the speed rush) with those screws. It's much easier for him inside. That helps us."
* Freshman Casey Dick will get more attention over the next few practices after the passing game slumped in Monday's first workout. Nutt liked what he saw from Robert Johnson, but didn't think the other returnees were as sharp as he hoped.
"We are going to find out about Dick," Nutt said. "We are going to find out what he can do with bullets flying. I think I know how he will do and that's good. He's got a strong arm and he will get more reps today. I was a little disappointed with some (of the QBs) yesterday. It's time to throw Casey in the fire. I've got a feeling he can do it."
* On the closed practices, Nutt apologized "if he hurt some feelings" but said he wanted the best atmosphere possible for the fall. He said his seniors liked the closed workouts in the spring.
"It may not be popular, but I must do what is best for my team," he said. "We had a better focus in the spring. We got better because (of the closed spring workouts)."
* Peyton Hillis is down a few pounds. He isn't at 240, his listed weight. It's more like 237. He said he's going to have to get new workout shorts. The ones in his locker now (the same ones he wore last year) kept sliding off yesterday.
"I guess when they got sweaty yesterday, they just slid down to my knees when I ran," he said.
I told him it won't matter since practices are going to be closed. Still, he's probably going to get some new shorts.
If anything, Hillis expects August to take a few more pounds from his body.
"I've been told to be ready to run a lot of pass routes this year," Hillis said. "With all of that running in practice (for pass plays) it figures I'm going to lose some more weight. That's fine with me. I know I'm stronger and faster and this is fun.
"I especially likes it when we run all verticals. I love the deep routes."
* There has been much discussion of Anthony Brown's weight. The defensive end weighed an even 230 Tuesday morning. He's bigger than I thought and bigger than some others figured. He's still a skinny 230. But, he can't wear a single item of clothing he wore last winter. He can't wear any of his sports jackets. His neck size for dress shirts has gone from a 16 to a 19. He said the one good thing is that he now can eat as much of his grandmother's specialty of fried catfish and spaghetti.
"I can eat four or five plates of that," he said. "It's been a lot of shock as far as learning a new position, but I'm getting there.
"I know teams are going to be trying to run at my side. I'm ready for that. Our team will be ready, too."
Arkansas is trying to see plenty of returnees Cole Barthel (13), Robert Johnson (18) and Alex Mortensen (7) while also working in Casey Dick (not shown).
Keith Jackson drives towards the quarterback on Tuesday.
Photos by Tom Ewart
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