Defensive end Anthony Brown drew continued high praise from defensive coordinator Reggie Herring as the Hogs prepared to head into full pads with an evening practice Thursday.
"He's set the tempo," Herring said of Brown, converted from wide receiver to end towards the end of spring practice and a fulltime end now.
"He looks like a pro there. He has incredible work habits. He was down the field on some plays today. As he continues to learn his assignments, he's going to be a special player.
"He practices at game speed. He plays with such great effort. As for as his weight, A.B. will always be work in progress. He's got a lot of places to put weight as long as he keeps a narrow waist. The sky is unlimited. He's just going to keep getting more dangerous as he puts on more weight.
"We've been out here four days and he plays harder than anyone we've got. When you talk about someone making the move from wideout to defensive end, it's not hard to see it if you've been out here the last four days."
Asked if he is still the starter, Herring said, "He's held onto it plus some. He's put a lot of money in the bank the last four days."
It was the first time the media had visited with Herring since the opening day of workouts since he is only doing interviews on Mondays and Thursdays in preseason. It was obvious things had changed since then when he was disappointed with the effort and mental toughness on Monday.
"We gave into the heat early in the week, and we've gotten better at everything each day since," he said. "From the first day to today it's been much, much better. We flew today. The effort has improved. We have less and less loafs.
"It's like shaking a tree. The more you shake it, the more things fall out. We had to go back to shaking it to start the week and things are getting better now. We had to shake it and build things back up. What's today? Thursday? Well, it was pretty encouraging today. Today we had 11 that were not afraid of hard work, now we have to be consistent."
Herring didn't seem surprised by the slow start, and then the improvement of late.
"I expected it would be a gradual thing," he said, noting that will be the norm for the next few months. "I told you guys on media day that I didn't expect them to bust out of the gate. We are not the finished product.
"It's like a child who is a juvenile delinquent. You can't change their habits in one week. You hope to get better and then build on it. We will continue to get better.
"We'll be better by the time we get to the opener, but we won't be the finished product then, either. Hopefully, we continue to improve as we play the better competition."
Pierre Brown, senior linebacker, spends a lot of time with Herring, his position coach. He said he senses the coach has been pleased with some aspects of the defense.
"But I haven't seen him smile just yet, not an altogether smile," Brown said. "He almost cracked a smile today. It started to come out a smile and maybe was a little bit of a smirk. I could tell he liked what we did, but I think he noticed that some of us were looking at him and he stopped it before it was a full smile.
"We are getting better. Guys are understanding that we have to play hard on every play. You see someone like Anthony Brown and it gets you going. He's a tremendous athlete and has tremendous ability. He has some things you can't teach like that speed, but that work ethic is something you develop on your own. We see that. He's really developed it."
Herring sees a lot of positives. He heaped praise on defensive tackle Ernest Mitchell and Keith Jackson, too. They were among the players who he asked to drop pounds in the offseason.
"Since Ernest has lost that weight, he's a different guy," Herring said. "He's gotten some quickness back. Keith Jackson has been much better, too. Plus, some of the puppies are coming on. The effort has improved. They are learning to chase the ball."
Among the puppies Herring likes are freshman linebackers Tyrell Graham and Freddie Fairchild.
"It was a nightmare for them on Monday, just a nightmare," Herring said. "The second day it was still pretty rough. The third day, the light came on. Today, it was really good. They know the drills and they are moving at a different speed. As far as tenacity and accountability, they are very good. You can tell it is important to them. They have physical ability. They have a chance, if they continue to come on, to be solid backups by the middle of the season."
Another highlight after four workouts has been backup safety Desmond Williams. That brought a smile to Herring's face since he was concerned about safety depth after spring drills.
"Desmond Williams is having a heck of a camp," Herring said. "He's making great strides. Yes, depth at safety and linebacker was a big concern coming in. I like what I see there now. We aren't there, but we are getting there."
Starting free safety Randy Kelly knows the Hogs are headed in the right direction. After donning shoulder pads, he's noticed some leather popping in front of me.
"I've tried to lay some leather on folks, but the guys in front of me are beating me to it," Kelly said. "There have been some nice hits up there. I saw some licks passed today. Everything is good. We still have to put in a lot of work, but we can see where the work is getting us to right now."
* * *
Head coach Houston Nutt said the Hogs had another good day. He said a strong work ethic and positive attitude has been obvious throughout the first four days of camp.
"I appreciate our guys because they are doing double duty," he said. "We had some guys with (summer school) finals today and they also got their film work done in a catch-up mode and have maintained their focus and concentration on the field, too."
Asked if the added emphasis in the passing game has produced some of the positive vibes, Nutt said, "Our tailbacks, fullbacks, tight ends and wide receivers feel more of a sense of urgency. They come to the line each play knowing they better be ready for a pass no matter what play is called.
"We are going through the playbook. We are going through our play-action, our dropback and all of the stuff with our three, five and seven step drops. We are still in the gun some, in three wide sets, using our tight ends."
Nutt said it was a "good screen day" and also added a big play came "on a delay." He said quarterback Robert Johnson did a "nice job of inviting in the defense" and then finding Peyton Hillis for a big play on a screen pass.
The head coach also mentioned the dogfight happening at tight end where he said the race is "wide open." Mason Templeton is still first, but Marc Winston and Jared Hicks "are coming. Winston has made the most improvement, but Hicks is coming."
Nutt continued to praise his freshmen tailbacks, but noted Michael Smith sat out the Thursday workout with a mild hamstring strain.
"He wanted to go, but we had to sit him down and explain that it was best that he rest it today," Nutt said. "Don't know how long he'll be out, but we didn't want him to damage it seriously. He's worried that he'll get behind. You like to hear that. We hope to have him back Saturday."
Nutt said some of the older backs are practicing well, but he loves what he sees from freshmen Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. He said all three of the freshmen tailbacks "are hitting the hole and while I don't want to say anything (bad) about those others, it's those three that get you the most excited. They are the ones that come to mind and they are hitting plays."
Nutt said placekicker Chris Baleseiro has had some good workouts, but he continues to praise kicker Will Moore, too. He said Moore has been impressive with a strong leg.
"Chris had a good day yesterday, but you like the way the ball comes off Will Moore's leg," Nutt said. "Coach (Ken) Turner has worked with Will this summer and you can tell."
Nutt said the Hogs were glad to welcome back offensive guard Cody Green after the redshirt freshman got clearance from doctors.
"We just got a second opinion on him," Nutt said. "He has some lower back problems and we will take it slow with him. But he's a big body and we are excited to have him out here."
Green must practice in shorts the first two days of workouts, while the rest of the squad will add leg pads to the shoulder pads it wore Thursday.
The squad will practice once on Friday, the first day in full pads. After a morning walk through, the Hogs will return to the field around 3:30 p.m. Friday after beginning their work at 5:30 p.m. the last two days.
"Moving it back later helped us," Nutt said of the two 5:30 p.m. workouts. "We haven't had four or five taking IVs the last two days. We got more done. It's been a lot different and more productive."
Offensive guard Chase Pressley, one of the players battling the heat, returned to practice on Thursday.
Thursday Grid Update, 8/11
Hawgs Daily Top Stories
Scout 2017 Rankings DirectoryThe Scout positional, state, regional, national and team rankings for the Class of 2017...
2017 Signing Day announcement scheduleComplete list of announcement times for the most high-profile uncommitted recruits in 2017.
Scout's Top 25 Recruiting ClassesA look at Scout's top 25 classes with just over a week to go to Signing Day.
Weekend Official Visit PrimerScout takes a look at the biggest visitors for the upcoming weekend in the Power 5 conferences...
Curl Feels 'Comfortable' with ArkansasKamren Curl picked Arkansas during a press conference ceremony at Muskogee High School on Thursday.