Monday Grid Update, 8/15

Arkansas practiced twice with defensive coordinator Reggie Herring noting a lack of consistency. Center Kyle Roper was added to an impressive list.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt cannot comment on commitments, so the fact Mitch Mustain and Andrew Norman issued verbal pledges Monday to sign with the Hogs was not addressed after practice.

However, Nutt was perhaps thinking foremost about those commitments when he opened his media briefing at about 7:55 p.m. Monday with this:

"It's a great day to be a Razorback," the Arkansas coach said. "It's a great day to be a Razorback."

Nutt then discussed practice, noting the evening workout was especially good and mentioning that milder weather of the last 48 hours has "been good."

Nutt said the afternoon workout featured a "lot of team with an emphasis on situations. We went over third and long, second and 8, second and long and just kept going back over it and over it. We were placing emphasis on getting in and out of the huddle. Of course, our defense never huddles and they were doing a nice job of getting their signals in."

Nutt praised wideouts Marcus Monk, Cedric Logan, Cedric Washington and Chris Baker for solid days catching the ball and added tight end Wes Murphy "did a good job of blocking."

Nutt also noted that Robert Johnson had another good day at quarterback.

"We've had 10 practices and he's had a bounce in his step for every one of them," Nutt said.

"We still have a way to go, but I love this team's attitude. We are making too many mistakes."

Nutt said the Hogs went 12 scrimmage plays in the middle drill. He praised tailback Dedrick Poole for his work in that segment and also noted linebackers Sam Olajubutu and Pierre Brown.

At offensive right guard where the Hogs are without the injured Zac Tubbs, Nutt said Tyler Morgan had a good day.

"Morgan took most of the snaps there today and did well," Nutt said.

The head coach said that it was good to have cornerbacks John Johnson and Chris Houston along with tailback Darren McFadden back at practice after missing several days on the injury list.

Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring, who briefs the media only on Monday and Thursday, was more emphatic in his praise of Johnson, moved from rover to cornerback in the spring.

"John Johnson at corner has been one of the big surprises of the spring," Herring said. "He's really been making a move. He was doing great, then went out with an ankle. He missed two days and then got back out there today. He begged to be out there. He picked right back up where he left off.

"Michael Coe is another one that is having a good fall. He had a tremendous summer after a very average spring. He's picked it up a level this fall. We have incredible depth at cornerback."

Herring also said linebacker Sam Olajubutu has raised eyebrows with his play this fall. He said he's picked up his play from the spring and has played well this fall.

However, Herring wasn't pleased with the consistency of the defense, especially with the way his side of the ball has played against the running game.

"Our offensive line has been very physical and we haven't matched that," Herring said. "Now when we have Marcus Harrison and Fred Bledsoe out there, we can. We are better then. Marcus will be there (when the Hogs open), and Fred is just a little dinked up. In our goal line scrimmage Saturday, Fred ran through the offensive tackle three straight plays. He's going to be pretty good."

Herring loves what he sees at defensive end from Anthony Brown and Desmond Sims and thinks Jamal Anderson and Zack Snider are more than adequate. Anderson's play against the run has been very good, but not so good when he rushes the passer. Olajubutu and Pierre Brown have been more than solid at linebacker, but the defensive coordinator has been less pleased at middle linebacker where Wes Dacus is listed first.

"Olajubutu went from the doghouse to the penthouse this fall," Herring said. "He's really been excellent and all over the place. Pierre is solid, too. We are waiting on Dacus. Of the freshmen (linebackers), Freddie Fairchild has executed the best."

While it seems the depth chart is starting to take shape on offense, Herring said he was far from naming his two deep.

"It might become more clear after Saturday's scrimmage," Herring said. "Ask me then. We aren't close to even naming our first 11, much less a two deep."

He likes the depth at cornerback and thinks that Darius Vinnett and Matterral Richardson are the leaders there. But there may be enough talent there with Johnson, Coe, Houston and Michael Grant that the Hogs might could move Richardson to free safety where Herring wants Randy Kelly to improve his tackling.

"I think Red Richardson could help us at free safety and we might can let him go at corner because of the numbers we have there," Herring said. "Kelly needs to tackle better."

Herring was disappointed with Saturday's scrimmage, although much of the goal line work was solid.

"We'd had an excellent week," Herring said. "We built it up to a frenzy by Friday. Then on Saturday, we were flat and non-competitive. We missed tackles and missed assignments.

"On Sunday we came back and got after them (as coaches) a little bit and gave them some extra curricular exercises. This morning they were a ball of fire again. But we still had some of that same inconsistency this afternoon.

"It wasn't just one area. It was everybody. We have got to grow up and be mentally tougher. We have to hold onto the rope, keep the line tight.

"In the scrimmage, we started out not playing well and no one stepped up with some leadership. We just kept playing awful.

"We are an emotional rollercoaster right now. The biggest concern is the run defense. We don't come to play every snap. Our offensive line is very physical. We know that. We haven't always matched them.

"The pass defense, we are good in the dime and nickel. We can roll it pretty good in that stuff. I'm not worried about that at all. We've got to be tougher against the run."

Asked if the light ends (Desmond Sims and Anthony Brown) were causing problems with the run defense, Herring said that wasn't a problem.

"There's a misconception about Anthony's weight and what he's asked to do," Herring said. "All he has to do is keep outside leverage and get up the field. He can do that. He's doing fine. So is Sims. Those two are playing hard and giving effort. Brown is OK and he's learning it.

"Brown may not have the size you want on paper, but that's clinic and paper talk. We aren't asking him to do much. We just need him to play technique. He's a great athlete and has the speed that you just don't see very much. And, he gives great, great effort. We are fine there."

Herring said another bright spot this fall has been the play of true freshman Elston Forte at free safety. He's battling for a backup spot. Desmond Williams has been strong at strong safety where he's Vickiel Vaughn's backup. Dallas Washington is the fifth safety, currently.

"Forte has caught our eye," Herring said. "He still makes a mistake here or there, but he's been good and Desmond Williams has had a solid camp so far.

"I'm not happy with the run defense, but we have a lot of weapons in our dime packages."



MORNING HIGHLIGHTS:

Arkansas worked for about 90 minutes Monday morning in Walker Pavilion after morning rain showers changed plans to work outside. Head coach Houston Nutt called it a solid practice, noting the way the defense performed.

Nutt said defensive coordinator Reggie Herring hadn't been pleased with the workouts the last two days, but should have liked his troops Monday morning.

"Reggie wasn't happy, but he liked it this morning, I'm sure," Nutt said. "Our defense flew to the ball. They were very good this morning and were sharp.

"You could see the focus on the defensive side all through the morning. Coach Herring was on the sideline and gave the signals to the field. He had the focus of all 11 and they practiced well."

The Hogs worked in shorts and shoulder pads as they prepared for a heavier workout in the evening, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. to take advantage of cooler conditions. It was unclear if the Hogs would move inside with more rain in the forecast.

Center Kyle Roper thought the offensive line did well in the morning. He liked what he saw of teammate Tyler Morgan, taking over at right guard for the injured Zac Tubbs.

"Tyler stepped in and picked right up where Zac left off," Roper said. "I don't see a problem there. We do expect Zac to come back from that injury, but you can tell that Tyler is going to be ready either way. The communication was good between the two of us and he looks like he's sure of what he's doing. I didn't worry about Tyler and he looks good."

Concerning Nutt's decision to name Robert Johnson as the starter at quarterback, Roper said it will make preparations easier.

"I've been working with three, and now Robert and I will stick together a little more," Roper said. "Every quarterback is a little different. You get used to one voice instead of listening to three different voices. Every quarterback takes the snap a little different. I can tell you that I wasn't worried about any of the three being the one. They are all good. But this makes it better to know now and get ready for the games."

Roper said it's been a very competitive fall in the trenches.

"The defense has gotten the better of (the offensive line) in some situations and we've done better in others," Roper said. "The first defense kept the first offense out of the end zone when we opened up with the goal line stuff Saturday afternoon. We got in the end zone later against a different group. Then, when we moved out on the field, the offense did very well against a lot of combinations. So there was something for everyone to pick from as far as who did the best.

"This defense is very good. You see the quickness up front and that helps this defense with the stunts and twists. They showed us some new stuff this morning that is very good."

Later in the day, Roper was named to the "watch list" for the Dave Remington Award, an honor which goes annually to the nation's best offensive center.

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