Thursday Grid Update, 8/18

With Robert Johnson still on the sideline, Alex Mortensen took a lot of snaps with the first team. Coaches liked what they saw of the redshirt freshman quarterback.

Quarterback Alex Mortensen showed his stuff for the second straight day, drawing praise from Arkansas coach Houston Nutt at the end of a Thursday evening workout.

"Alex had a very good day," Nutt said. "He hung in against some blitzes and made some good throws. That's three good practices in a row. He got a lot of snaps with the first group in that time and has practiced well and thrown the ball well. He made good decisions today."

Robert Johnson, named the first team QB on Sunday, missed his third straight workout with a sore groin muscle. Interestingly, it was an injury to Mortensen last week that may have helped Johnson create some separation in the race.

"Alex was battling with a knee injury last week," Nutt said.

Mortensen said, "It's better now. I feel a lot better. But I'll tell you, getting time with the ones helped more. I got in the rhythm with them the last two days. When you have that offensive line in front of you to protect and you are throwing to those first group of wideouts, Marcus Monk and Cedric Washington, you get some confidence."

Mortensen thinks the offense is improving as defensive coordinator Reggie Herring adds blitzes in team segments of practice.

"Coach Herring can bring so much pressure that it's really made us play better," Mortensen said. "I believe like it says in Proverbs, "Iron sharpen iron and men sharpen men.' That's what I think is happening."

But there is little question that getting more snaps with the first group has helped Mortensen. In the spring, there wasn't enough depth in the offensive line for the quarterbacks to develop much rhythm. Usually, the quarterbacks rotated after about 10 to 12 plays. Scrimmages were shortened in the spring.

With Johnson out, Mortensen's snaps have doubled and most have been with the first group.

"I don't know how many I got today," Mortensen said. "But it's been a lot more.

"I just got in the flow today with the ones. Robert did a good job when he was out there and we will do well with this offense no matter which one of us is out there."

Both will get their chances in game situations, Nutt said.

"Absolutely, we'll need them both," Nutt said. "They will both play."

Cole Barthel, the third quarterback for now, got more snaps the last three workouts, too.

"He's doing better, but it's still tough to get in the groove after being out for four years," Nutt said of Barthel. "He just needs more reps, more reps. It will come for Cole."

Nutt shortened Thursday's workout to try and keep from adding pressure to some of the injured who are returning to practice.

"We had some guys back today and we want to make sure we don't push them too hard," he said. "Chris Houston, Marcus Harrison and Michael Grant were out here and I didn't want them back to the training room. So we cut back on it a little."

The Hogs are gearing up for a major scrimmage at 6 p.m. Saturday night to coincide with Fan Appreciation Day. Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring will use it to decide playing time.

The most interesting developments might happen at linebacker where starters Sam Olajubutu and Pierre Brown, solid in every workout this fall, will get the night off so that more younger linebackers can audition for playing time.

"We'll move Weston Dacus to sam linebacker (from mike) and put Tyrell Graham at mike," Herring said. "And, we'll have Freddie Fairchild at will linebacker."

Herring said both Brown and Olajubutu are game ready and he's concerned with depth. He especially wants to see what true freshmen Graham and Fairchild can do in the scrimmage.

"We want to look at the pups and, frankly, we can't afford to get Pierre or 'Butu injured," Herring said. "We'll play the pups with the ones.

"Fairchild and Graham have done well, but to explain how they've been you'd have to talk to someone here who has had a child. Have you been through the terrible twos? You love them one minute and then want to put them up for adoption the next.

"They are trying hard, but they have frustrated their coaches. Bless them, they haven't quit one time. They have good young minds and they have ability.

"The good thing they've done is blend in. They are tough. But they are still freshmen.

"We want to see what they can do Saturday night. I think they will help us this year. We can use them as backups, hopefully, and let them develop and sprinkle them in as we go this year. If we stay healthy, maybe we don't have to rush them too much."

Herring has liked some of what he's seen so far through almost two weeks of workouts, but there has been too much inconsistency.

"We are hot and cold," he said. "Most of that is concerning the run game. We are soft there sometimes, but not always. We need to pick up the consistency there dramatically.

"Sometimes it's the ends not filling. Sometimes it's the linebackers not scraping. Sometimes we are soft inside against the double teams.

"Part of it is we are beaten up at defensive tackle. When we have Harrison and (Fred) Bledsoe out there, we are better. It all has to do with the front seven. One day we stuf the run. The next day we don't. To be honest, there have been some days that we haven't had those two, and then you don't have that 300-pounder who can move in there at the defensive tackle spots. Without them we lack that big pow-wow inside. But it would help if we played with a meaner, tougher demeanor, and I know that's a tongue twister, but it's what we need.

"We've got bits and pieces that we do good. The issue is technique and toughness, mostly mental toughness. We don't always play as 11, either. It's just inconsistency, like I said."

Herring said he's looking for certain things in the scrimmage, but if you listed big picture items it would be "to play good run defense and not give up big plays."

He didn't say if the Hogs will show their entire defensive package, but he confirmed that "it's all in now. And, when we execute our calls right with all 11, 99 percent of the time we win that down. Yes, the package is in."

There are a handful of races that need more definition, but he said the backup end behind Anthony Brown is close to being settled between Clarke Moore and Zach Snider.

"Snider is about to get beat out," Herring said. "Snider hasn't had that tenacity and has looked unmotivated so far, completely different than he was in the spring. I can't tell you why, just that he's looked that way.

"Clarke Moore plays technique, plays hard and takes coaching. He's made a move and is about to win that job unless Snider does something Saturday night. Right now Clarke Moore is in line to play a lot."

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