Malzahn And Wood Get To Work

FAYETTEVILLE -- Unlike in years past, Arkansas coach Houston Nutt was able to speak with fans and stroll around the field on the opening day of spring football practices.

Nutt didn't need to worry Monday evening about standing in the huddle and calling plays for his offense to run. And he didn't need to give advice to his quarterbacks if they made an errant throw.

After going eight years without an offensive coordinator, Nutt was finally able to let someone else oversee the offense. That gave him a chance to turn his attention to other areas during the two-plus hour long practice.

"(That) doesn't mean that you're not involved. You're still involved," Nutt said. "It's just a different type of role."

Former Springdale High School coach Gus Malzahn, hired in December to be Nutt's first offensive coordinator at Arkansas, called plays, provided some encouraging words and gave route-running advice to the wide receivers on his first day at practice.

With new quarterbacks coach Alex Wood standing nearby, Malzahn appeared comfortable as he served the role that Nutt had done for so many years as the man in charge of the offense.

Of course, Malzahn admits it was slightly different than what he was used to as being the head coach.

"Getting dressed, it was a little different," Malzahn said. "Once you get out here and start coaching guys, it's like anything else."

Monday's practice was open to the media and public, and around 100 spectators -- including Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles and former Springdale High School tight end Ben Cleveland -- came out to watch Malzahn and Wood run Arkansas' offense for the first time.

And with the two new assistant coaches at the helm, the offense spent a good portion of the practice running passing routes -- which Nutt said will be "the emphasis right now."

Nutt said he was pleased with what he saw from Malzahn and Wood, who were added to his coaching staff in the offseason to help rejuvenate the offense. The two mild-mannered assistant coaches didn't yell but rather calmly critiqued the quarterbacks and wide receivers during team drills.

But mistakes should be expected early on, and Malzahn admitted that it appeared that some players got tired toward the end of practice and that the wide receivers dropped too many passes.

"You know, we're not in great shape right now," Malzahn said. "They kind of got a little tired toward the end, but I saw some good things (and) some things to work on. I feel good about where we are right now."

Wood added that the quarterbacks were inconsistent with their throws at times, but he was pleased with their effort and that they were receptive to his suggestions.

"It's the first day and we've got a lot of work to do," Wood said. "We've got 14 more (spring practices) to get better."

Monday also gave running back Darren McFadden a chance to get back out on the practice field and test his surgically repaired left knee. McFadden, who rushed for 1,113 yards and 11 touchdowns as a freshman last season, had arthroscopic surgery on Nov. 30 to repair torn cartilage in his knee.

McFadden said the left knee didn't limit what he did in practice, though he admits he was favoring it at times when he ran.

"I don't think it feels any different, (but) I think I'm showing a little bit of favoritism toward it when I'm cutting," McFadden said. "But other than that, it feels the same."

Malzahn said he didn't notice that McFadden was favoring his left knee. In fact, the one thing that Malzahn could tell about his starting running back from the first day was that "he's very fast."

Nutt said there weren't any "no-shows" as the team went through 27 sessions on the first day of practice. Even offensive tackle Jose Valdez and free safety Randy Kelly managed to get to practice -- albeit a few minutes late -- after flying in from out of town.

They, like dozens of Razorbacks fans, were there to catch the first day of what Nutt hopes will be the Malzahn-Wood era.

"I had a good time coaching. All the guys were working hard today," Wood said. "...It was exciting."

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