With starting quarterback Robert Johnson being rested because of a sore groin on Wednesday, back-up quarterback Alex Mortensen used the opportunity to take a step forward.
University of Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt lauded Mortensen after the second of two workouts on Wednesday.
"I tell you Alex really had a good day today," Nutt said. "I thought he stepped in there with some blitzes, completed some balls. I feel comfortable with him. He's understanding the offense better, got a good voice for the snap count and drew the defense offsides twice today and hit some key, key passes today. I was really proud of him today."
Johnson, who had hernia surgery earlier this summer, was held out as a precautionary move according to Nutt.
"It's not a hernia - he's past that," Nutt said. "It's a groin. It is just a nagging groin injury. (UA head trainer) Dean (Weber) thought if I gave him a break, especially this afternoon, he should be okay."
Both Wednesday practices had Nutt feeling better than he did when he blasted the Tuesday night one.
"The guys really came to work today," Nutt said. "We got just what we wanted from there."
Nutt did admit that he was seeing some of the young ones begin to look a little homesick.
"There is nothing like practice, but some of them feel like when you hit that 12th or 13th practice, they think ‘whew, this is a tough, tough thing,'" Nutt related. "They are missing momma a little bit, especially our young ones, and they are missing some of those high school times. They are finding out that things move at a much faster pace.
"We have thrown a lot at them," Nutt said, "and know we are going to start cutting back a little bit as far the number of plays they are going to have to know. We are going to start zeroing in a little bit more. Not that we are game planning yet, but we are just going to start cutting a few things. We are still putting them in situations every day - 3rd-and long, 3rd-and medium, 1st-and-10, playing the game. We had a good day, it was a good effort today."
Nutt praised several defenders for their effort on Wednesday.
"Anthony Brown continues to give us a great rush, Desmond Sims gives us a good rush on the other side," Nutt said. "You have got two (defensive ends) that stand out. I feel good about (linebackers) Pierre Brown, Sam Olajubutu and (Weston) Dacus is getting better. Our younger linebackers - as (UA defensive coordinator) Coach (Reggie) Herring says you have to spoon- feed them every day. It is a little fast for them some days, but I think they are doing well for freshman."
Nutt does wish he had more healthy cornerbacks right now, but lauded Michael Coe for his improvement at that spot.
"Michael Coe has gotten better with his technique," Nutt said. "That's good because we have lost some corners with Michael Grant and (Darius) Vinnett on the sidelines. Chris Houston and Johnny Johnson have stepped up and (safety) Vickiel Vaughn has been a leader for us."
Safety coach Chris Vaughn noted that strong safety Vaughn and free safety Randy Kelly were manning the first-team spots right now with Desmond Williams and Kevin Woods contending at strong safety and Dallas Washington and true freshman Elston Forte seeing action at free safety.
"We have got to gain some depth behind that first-team group, some consistency with that group," Nutt said. "It's kind of up and down after the ones. There are high points and low points. We are working to get some consistency on that second team and solidify that second team."
On offense, Nutt had good things to say about returning running backs Peyton Hillis, De'Arrius Howard (who returned to practice) as well as true freshman Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.
True freshman tailback Michael Smith remains out with a hamstring problem and senior fullback Brandon Kennedy is battling an ankle injury.
"Brandon's got a swollen ankle," Nutt said. "It's not a high ankle sprain. He will be back next week. Thankfully Farod Jackson has been playing well there for us."
Although the NCAA limits the amount of practices these days, Nutt notes that is not a problem with conditioning because year-round conditioning is a constant in football programs these days.
"It helps out a lot," Nutt said. "It is not like it used to be where you come in, find out who is in shape and get them in shape. Those days are over. It is a year-round game now and they have been running year round. For the most part we are in pretty good shape. We don't even run them as much as we did five or six years ago, but we ask a very high level of intensity and a high level of speed each play."
o o o
After a sorry practice on Tuesday evening, Nutt was anxious to see what he would get on Wednesday morning in the first of two practices on the day.
"We came back and responded better from yesterday," Nutt said. "We came back with the sleepies out of our eyes, we came back with a much, much better practice and offensively - especially - we knew who to block today, had good ballhandling and no turnovers, so that was a positive."
Sophomore defensive tackle Fred Bledsoe, who has worked his way down from a high of 330 pounds this summer is now just under the 300 mark and showing more agility as he gets more plays with Marcus Harrison injured.
"The defense continued to get better running around and we're trying to get everyone back," Nutt added. "Fred Bledsoe had a lot more plays today and he is moving better. Hopefully we can get Marcus Harrison back for too long."
Johnson was limited in the shorts and shoulder pad practice inside Walker Pavilion, he did get some work in.
"He got a lot of fundamentals and has got just a sore groin," Nutt said. "He did some good things as far as fundamentals and throwing."
Nutt also addressed the punt returner role, which Michael Coe has risen to the top so far even as the Razorback staff gives Reggie Fish and others a chance to earn that role.
"That guy has got to be very, very important," Nutt said. "That can turn a game around as we all know. You have to be a sure catcher. We know what he (Fish) can do when he catches it, but you have got to make good decisions when the heat is coming down on you and you got 11 guys coming down your throat. You just have to be a great decision maker."
Coe is the top decision-maker at the moment as Nutt longs to have a guy like former Razorbacks DeCori Birmingham and Marvin Jackson back there.
"Michael Coe is catching the ball the cleanest right now," Nutt said. "You've got Cedric Logan, Darius Vinnett when he has been out here, Reginald Fish and Dedrick Poole. Right now he (Coe) is a sure catcher and a great decision maker".
Secondary member Chris Houston and Johnny Johnson are back practicing, but corners Michael Grant and Darius Vinnett are still waiting to get back.
"Vinnett is precautionary," Nutt said. "You just want to get him well. You know what he is about. He hates it and wants to be out there. If you watch him on the sidelines, he knows every play that is going on and he is into it.
"Some of others have hurt themselves are getting behind," Nutt continued. "They need reps, need reps, need reps."
Nutt also again lauded Wes Murphy, who has risen to first team on the depth chart with Mason Templeton currently second, Marc Winston third and veteran Jared Hicks running fourth-team.
"Wes Murphy has made a step up for us," Nutt said. "He has been very physical. I am excited about him. He is going to the right guy, stepping good, being physical at the point of attack and has caught the ball well. With him, Jared Hicks and Marcus Winston, you've got a little depth going there."
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