Friday Grid Report, 8-26

Arkansas releases it depth chart with a few surprises, including the versatile Peyton Hillis getting the nod at tailback, a new kickoff man and a bevy of players still in contention at some spots.

While University of Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt talked some about Friday's short workout, it was the release of the depth chart that was the subject of most of the post-practice questions from the media.

Sophomore Peyton Hillis was tabbed the starter at tailback, Dedrick Poole listed as the first-team H-back, there will be a new kickoff man and any of six players are still alive to start in the two defensive tackle spots in the opener next Saturday against visiting Missouri State.

Those were some of the highlights of the depth chart, which is snapshot in time of this past week especially at a tailback spot where De'Arrius Howard is the current second-teamer and stud freshmen Felix Jones and Darren McFadden both viewed as third-teamers.

"It's a good problem to have," Nutt said. "I know a lot of coaches would love to have that problem with that kind of depth. You just want to keep them healthy. We've had years where you've had two of three go down. You don't want that. Hopefully we will keep them all healthy because we are going to need them all.

"We have got a lot of different roles for these guys and their attitudes have been good," Nutt said. "That's the key. It's easy to get selfish in the world that we live in."

Nutt said there are some combinations that include several of those guys in the game at one time as the versatile Hillis will line up at tailback, fullback, H-back and tight end during the game.

"He (Hillis) will go out there first," Nutt said. "Again it depends. There are couple of formations where you could have De'Arrius Howard and Peyton in there at the same time or Dedrick Poole and Peyton. We have a little flexibility."

Hillis, who found out he was the starter when told by the media, welcomed the task of starting at tailback and moving around during the game.

"The game plan is going to change every week," Hillis said. "It is going to change week to week on how much I get the ball. We'll see what package is more suitable for the team we are playing, what coverage the defense is in."

Hillis said the coaches have told him kind of what to expect each week percentage wise in each game.

"As far as fullback and tailback go I will probably line up there more, probably about 60 percent of the time," Hillis said. "From tight end and H-back, consistently moving out coming on and off field and moving in and out. They have said they are going to get me the ball as much as possible because they trust the ball in my hands."

If not line up in the backfield, Hillis says he prefers H-back.

"I kind of like H-back because you only have to make one guy miss and then you get the ball thrown to you," Hillis said. "I like that a lot more because instead of running up against a 300-pound defensive lineman you are running against little bitty D-backs."

More than being named a starter, Hillis is just happy to be feeling good once again after being forced to leave Fan Day ceremonies with an illness.

Hillis got to camp at 240 pounds and said he bounced between 228-234 pounds during those early practices. He got down to 219 after the recent bout with the flu and is now at 225.

"It was about four or five consecutive days of just throwing up and waking up and being dizzy and then sooner or later you had nothing left to throw up and you're just dry heaving all the time. It was pretty bad."

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Nutt noted that redshirt sophomore quarterback Robert Johnson strengthen his hold on that position with this week after practice after missing the previous week due to a sore groin.

Johnson is ahead of back-up Alex Mortensen and Cole Barthel on the depth chart.

"He looked extremely sharp," Nutt said. "He did a great job with the audible system today and a great job of throwing the deep ball. I am anxious to see him play when the lights come on. His health is getting better.

"He's been rushed full speed all this week, especially in 3rd-and-8th where the ends Anthony Brown and Desmond Sims are coming," Nutt added. "That is what we have been most proud of - not panicking in the pocket when the pocket collapses and taking what they give you and either scrambling or throwing it away. He's doing a much better job of that when than in the spring."

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On offense, Jonathan Luigs is listed as a first-team right guard along with Tyler Morgan and is also the back-up center.

Marc Winston and Mason Templeton were named as co first-team top tight ends while David Thompson has now caught the injured Chris Baker as the second team split end behind starter Marcus Monk.

"Chris Baker has a bruised knee, a little swelling and he tried to come back out here today," Nutt said. "It's just hard. It loosened up a little bit and he'll be okay, but it is just kind of nagging injury."

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The six defensive tackles listed as potential starters were either Marcus Harrison, Keith Jackson and true freshman Cord Gray on the left side and Fred Bledsoe, Jeremy Harrell and Ernest Mitchell on the right side.

Brown and Sims will open at the ends with Weston Dacus slightly ahead of Clarke Moore at middle linebacker with Pierre Brown and Sam Olajubutu opening up and linebacker and being backed up by true freshman Fred Fairchild and Tyrell Graham.

Cornerbacks Darius Vinnett and Michael Coe join safeties Vickiel Vaughn and Matteral "Red" Richardson in the starting secondary.

"Here's the thing about Coach Herring," Nutt said. "It can change tonight. It can change tomorrow. Each time you go in that dressing room, you better be going full speed. It can only be temporary. I think our team is starting to get a feel for that. Nothing's lock up until the end of the day and it makes them work that much harder."

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Coe will open as the main punt returner with Hillis in reserve.

"We just feel like Peyton is doing so much," Nutt said. "He's a kick returner, a punt returner, a tight end, an H, a fullback and a tailback. We'll go with Coe. It's an easier substitution and then we can always put him in there. We feel good about both Michael Coe and Peyton."

"It is exactly the way we will line up for stretch, exactly the way we will take the field, exactly the way we will warm up for pregame, telling everyone where they are going to sit during the game - just all the things you can think about. It's just all the little bitty things you can think about in game-like situations, we're just not tackling to the ground.

"It's substitution, first and 10, second and 10, offense on, offense off, sudden change, what do you do after a safety, a blocked PAT or field goal, we are going to go through everything A to Z."

In other special team news, redshirt freshman Brian Varva of Bentonville has earned the kickoff job, Jacob Skinner will be the punter and Chris Balisero has a slight edge on freshman Stephen Arnold for the field goal and PAT duties.

Varva outlasted a bevy of candidates for the kickoff job.

"He has just been real consistent since we saw him in the spring," UA special teams coach James Shibest noted. "He had a great leg in the spring and we felt good about him coming back in this camp. He has proven to continue to do that. He has just got explosion off the leg. When he comes off the ball he lands three or four yards in front of the ball."

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The Razorbacks will go through a dress rehearsal on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. that is closed to the public and the media and then will practice Sunday afternoon.


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