There were few smiles after Friday's morning workout, although running back coach Danny Nutt did have a sparkle in his eyes when he was asked about freshman tailback Felix Jones. Nutt left little doubt that Jones was figuring heavily in their plans as the season opener approaches.
"He's put good practice on top of good practice," Nutt said. "He makes at least one big play in every practice. Every day, every practice. He's smooth, smart and can play the game."
Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt would agree, but he wasn't in a mood to offer much praise after a sluggish morning workout. After meeting with the media for the usual briefing, Nutt went into the team meeting room for what most said was a "do good" speech.
"None of us are too happy right now," said Mike Markuson, the offensive line coach, after that meeting. "We are mad at them. We've got to have more consistency."
The coaches talked with the assembled team for about 10 minutes. Team captains talked again after the coaches left the meeting room. There was an afernoon practice that was called off.
"It's just that point in two-a-days when everyone is tired, everyone is beat up, everyone has some bruises and they don't feel too good," Nutt said. "But we still have to push through and practice well with consistency.
"We came out kinda sleepy today. It picked up at the end of the practice. The only thing that I'm disappointed with is the consistency. I just wanted to tell them that we know you are beat up and hurt and we are proud of you for pushing to get back out there, but we need consistency."
Jones continues to impress at tailback. The freshman from Tulsa Washington is drawing praise from his defensive teammates, too.
"He's a quality SEC back, that's what I see," said linebacker Pierre Brown. "You better get him quick because he's got a real gallop to him. One chance and if you miss, he's gone. And, you better be in front of him, because he'll see you and then you will miss."
Asked for a comparison, Danny Nutt pointed to former Dallas great Emmitt Smith.
"Same kind of back," Nutt said. "A lot like Emmitt Smith. He may be faster than Emmitt. He's as tough as Emmitt. He's smart like Emmitt.
"He handles everything like a senior. Real smooth. And, he keeps improving. He makes a play a day. He's going to play, yes sir, he's going to play."
Jones liked the comparison to the former Cowboy.
"That is someone I idolize and try to be like, I really do," Jones said. "I appreciate anyone saying I'm like that. I watched him growing up and tried to play like him. He's got some moves and I hope I do, too.
"Pierre said I had a gallop? I take that as a compliment, too. I hope that's good. I take that as I'm a hard runner. I try to be.
"I try to run with my eyes. No use taking a hit if you don't have to. I want to see the defense, for sure."
Nutt said Jons isn't just a runner.
"He's a very good blocker," Nutt said. "He can do it all. He's got real speed. He's every bit what we thought and more. He is faster than what we thought. He can make the first one miss and then he'll break a tackle on the next.
"The next best we have at breaking a tackle is Peyton Hillis. But Hillis doesn't have that wiggle to make people miss like Felix. But you know the first one is going to fall off of Peyton."
Nutt said Darren McFadden, another freshman tailback, is making a move, too. Michael Smith, the third of the highly touted new tailbacks, is still on the sideline with a hamstring problem.
"He's just a little further back than Felix right now, but he's coming," Nutt said. "What you must remember about Darren is that he played a lot of other spots than Felix. He even played some tailback and wideout and he played defense, too. He's learning our system and will get there.
"We are going to be able to play them both. Felix is more ready right now than Darren, but I love Darren, too. What is really nice is that no matter which one of them does something good, the other one is right there to pat them on the back, usually the first one. It's either way, too."
Jones smiled about that, and had a question.
"Do you remember the Auburn backs, Ronnie Brown and Cadillac?" he said. "Remember how they played together and pulled for each other? That's us, me and Darren right now, and Michael, too, when he gets back. We haven't talked about it and no one has mentioned it or asked us to be like that. I just know we are like that. I wanted to bring it up because I want it to be like that and I know Darren and Michael are like that, too.
"We are not competing. We are together. We will take turns. We'll be there to cheer for each other and make plays together. It's about doing what brings a win to the team."
They got a few more snaps Friday morning with Hillis out for the practice with a stomach virus. Hillis may miss the afternoon workout, too, although he did attend the practice.
The head coach said QB Robert Johnson took a few snaps Friday morning, but not much. He said the first team quarterback would probably do very little in Saturday night's scrimmage. Nutt said trainer Dean Weber said the groin injury that's sidelined Johnson for three days is now "just tender. He's going to be fine. He can run straight ahead. We just want to be careful with him right now."
Nutt said, "We want him ready for the opener, and the other good news with holding him out is that Alex Mortensen needs the work right now. It's good both ways."
There are some interesting battles shaping up for Saturday night's 6 p.m. scrimmage. A big one is at right guard where Jonathan Luigs is now pushing Tyler Morgan for the opening created by an injury to Zac Tubbs.
"Tyler Morgan is doing a nice job and playing hard," said Mike Markuson, line coach. "But we want more consistency there. We worked Luigs there this morning.
"I think Luigs may get more work with the first group at right guard. He's practicing very well. We just want more consistency at right guard. We want to get the best five on the field. Luigs worked at center and guard today. We just want to get the guy out there who we can trust the most."
Of the starters, Markuson said Tony Ugoh was having a superb camp.
"He's really done well with his pass sets," Markuson said. "I like the others, too. Stephen Parker and Kyle Roper have been very physical. Robert Felton has been consistent, too."
Of the freshmen, the o-linemen closest to being able to play this year may be right guard Colin Tucker.
"His background, his fundamental work from high school, was the best," Markuson said. "That gives Colin an edge. He does the little things and understands his assignments the best. He's been the most consistent. He needs more physical strength. He has some limitations there, but he has been consistent."
On the injury list, Cody Green may return in two weeks after doctors gave him a pair of injections to calm some problems with a couple of discs in his lower back.
"We'll just see what he can do when he comes back," Markuson said. "He has some numbness there. I don't know what his conditioning will be like. He's been watching for awhile."
Tubbs was walking without a limp as he came to practice Friday morning, but he's still a long way from returning to workouts.
"Maybe one more week, maybe two," said Nutt. "But we will watch him closely. I'd say probably that he's out for the opener."
Markuson added, "I want to make sure we have him for the long haul, not the first game or two. It's so easy to aggravate it if you rush it back. We will take our time and make sure we have him for the entire season."
The Hogs won't practice but once Saturday as players meet with fans at 10 a.m. for Fan Appreciation Day. The Hogs will begin their evening workout at around 6 p.m. Saturday.
Friday Grid Update, 8/19
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