Spring Review: Nutt Excited

Head coach Houston Nutt gives his thoughts after the Hogs finished the bulk of their spring work. Competition and depth improved at several positions, but defensive line may still be thin.

Houston Nutt pronounced it his "best spring" in five years at Arkansas as the Arkansas head coach reviewed drills after 14 of the allotted 15 days of practice.

The Hogs will conclude spring drills on Tuesday with a workout for quarterbacks and receivers supervised by quarterback coach David Lee.

"The thing that made this spring different is that we turned it loose and played the game so much more," Nutt said. "We scrimmaged more and had three full-scale scrimmages. I think that's why we came out ahead this spring.

"We had three quarterbacks and two offensive lines and more depth at tailback, so we could afford to scrimmage more and find some answers.

"I'm not sure we found out all the answers, but we learned a lot about our quarterbacks and some of our young linemen. We found out we had some depth. Guys like Jerry Reith, Caleb Perry, Dan Doughty, Nathan Ball, Scott Davenport, Bo Lacy and Jim Peters ... they needed the work. Those guys had good springs and Bo Lacy really came on for us at left tackle. He probably came the furthest.

"As far as the quarterbacks, you can go pass skeleton all the time, but you can't simulate the rush, the pressure and the blitz in skeleton. You need scrimmages. Sometimes you look good in pass skeleton, then you get in a game or a scrimmage and you don't look so good. That's why all this scrimmage time was good for our quarterbacks. We went over 300 snaps and that was great for them.

"What you don't get in pass skeleton is the way the linebackers move and the safeties move. Like in the scrimmage Saturday, Jimmy Beasley baited Tarvaris, moved into a spot he wasn't supposed to be and he got an interception. It's great to see that in a scrimmage and it makes your quarterbacks better.

"I thought all of our quarterbacks improved this spring. Tarvaris did a great job of learning how to mix in the audibles, and so did the rest of the quarrterbacks. I think they realized that they don't have to be a hero on every play. All three are better in that regard.

"I think Decori Birmingham is one of the guys we found out about. He will help us. But, he still has a long way to go. He got more snaps after George Wilson was injured, and he found out it's still a learning process. Competition is healthy and we had good battles at wide receiver and several positions.

"Cornerback was our thinnest spot, but we found two good ones in Marvin Jackson and Bo Mosley. They got a lot of snaps and did very well. We found out we can depend on them in a game, and they will play next year. They are going to play.

"I loved what we got from our young linebackers. Gavin Walls, Clarke Moore, Jeb Huckeba and Pierre Brown showed that they can play. Pierre Brown really came on the last week. He had a great scrimmage on Saturday. He showed up at the end. When you scrimmage over 300 snaps, it's going to help your linebackers.

"As far as competition, I wish we had three more big defensive linemen. And, I wish we had a big guy in the middle like a Jermaine Petty at linebacker. He was an All-American last year.

"I like our kickers. I think Ritche Butler at punter and Brennan O'Donohoe and David Carlton at kicker are good ones. We've got good snappers, too, starting with Chuck Nalley.

"As far as the defensive line, Kacy Rodgers, our line coach, is asking us why we ever moved Jason Peters to tight end. But, they gave him up last year, and he's too involved in our passing game to move him back. There is some talk about getting Jason on the field for 10-12 snaps with the defensive line in games next fall. There's also been some talk about using Shawn Andrews in the defensive line, possible on the goal line. But, it's just talk now. We'll discuss that when we get back from spring recruiting evaluation.

"We haven't discussed the quarterbacks, as far as who is number one. That's always what everyone asks, including the quarterbacks. But, we told them not to worry about ranking them ... not one, two or three. We just asked them to go out each day, and try to get better. We asked them to focus on executing each play and not to worry about where they are at. If they'll concentrate on each play, that will help more than anything. I think they did that. We wanted them to fight to move the team and not worry about the other.

"We are so much better at quarterback. I have confidence in all three. I believe in all three. All of them have a lot of strengths about them. We are in great shape. We just want them to go throw a lot of balls this summer, work out hard and then come back and compete in the fall.

"We think we have great variety in our offense now. We have the short throws to the backs, to the tight ends. We have the ability to hand it to the fullback and we have some quarterback runs. All three can execute all of it. We have the vertical plays, the passes on the crossing routes over the middle. We have all of that now.

"We have a lot of formations. We have variety in our running plays. We have the play-action passing game ... the three-step drop so that we don't have to worry so much about protection, and we have the dropback and then the passing game out of the shotgun. They can all do that.

"As far as Matt Jones playing somewhere besides quarterback, we don't have to think about that for a good amount of time. It's something that can be done and he's a good enough athlete that he can move out there and learn the routes and play there.

"Right now, I'd like to see what happens if he works all summer and then has 29 practices in the fall. He came out (this spring) behind, but he improved and he is going to improve some more. I've seen his passing improve a lot.

"But if it comes to having two quarterbacks in the huddle, I really like it. It puts pressure on the defense. Right now, there's no decision to make. I think time and lots of practice will give us the answer. Time and practice always takes care of everything. We don't need to make any of those decisions right now and we won't. He's got too much ability to play quarterback to think about moving him right now.

"As far as surprises, I thought some players that showed us some things were Lerinezo Robinson in the secondary, Carlos Ousley at wide receiver and De'Arrius Howard at tailback.

"I think we knew about Robinson, but didn't know he'd be ready this quick. He always makes plays when he's on the field. Ousley was a player we knew had some ability, but he was so consistent at catching the ball and running routes. De'Arrius was a special recruit and a great player in high school, so he wasn't so much of a surprise. But, we found out he is a real team player and a load.

"We also found out more about Mark Pierce. We need to get him the ball more. He makes plays. He's great as a runner when we got him the ball. So we have to get him the ball more and not just throwing it.

"As far as evaluation of the squad, I think we know we have really good speed. I hear other coaches talk about our backs and our corners and the rover/bandit guys ... how well they run and our numbers. Most coaches, what they are looking for the most is cornerbacks and defensive linemen. We have the corners, but we need some more true defensive linemen. All across the country, you hear coaches talk about needing corners and defensive tackles.

"Defensively, I thought it was an excellent spring. Dave Wommack has done an excellent job. There was a lot of transition and he took all the coaches and put it together. The chemistry on our defensive staff is excellent. I wanted an eight-man front. I've always liked an eight-man front to stop the run.

"What we needed was a way to create pressure in the pass rush because we may be short of a speed rush guy. The 8-man front ... with the speed we have at bandit, rover and the wolf linebacker spot with guys like Tony Bua, Jimmy Beasley, Lerinezo Robinson, Jimarr Gallon and the guys we have at safety and corner ... we can have that speed coming off the edge and get what we want as far as pass pressure. And, I think Dave is great with that kind of a package and that's why we will probably be more of a 4-4 than a 4-3 this fall. He knows how to try to out-number them and still get the pressure. We will still have some 4-3, but we will be very multiple and probably blitz more than we blitzed the past couple of years.

"I think what jumps out at you on defense is the way Gavin Walls played at linebacker. Bobby Allen did a great job with Gavin. They hooked up and Gavin was able to turn it loose. He was a different player this spring.

"And, we saw that happen with Pervis Osborne late in the spring. He started coming on in the defensive line. He's still not quite all the way back from his knee surgery, but he's a guy who has played before and he's going to be a factor.

"I think we will try to get Brandon Holmes more snaps at fullback in the fall, but I'm not saying he won't play some tailback. But, he can't be a fulltime tailback, I don't think. We need him to help at fullback. On NFL junior day, one of the scouts commented to Brandon that he could help himself if he'd play fullback. He told him, 'You'd be a great fullback.' And, we didn't choreograph that at all. Maybe we should have gotten all 25 NFL scouts to tell him that.

"This is a good squad, but I'm not going to say it is more talented than the one that was here when we first got to Arkansas. That team had an offensive line with big hearts and they had players like Ryan Hale, Anthony Lucas, Clint Stoerner, Madre Hill, Chrys Chukwuma, Kenoy Kennedy, David Barrett and Jermomy Flowers. That was a talented bunch and they'd played a lot of snaps. I'm not ready to say this is a more talented team than that, but I think this can be a good team. We have talent and we have speed."

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