Arkansas finished its second day of spring drills with another padless workout Tuesday with the defense standing out as ahead of the offense, according to all sides.
"I'm sure that Reggie Herring is going to come over here in a few minutes when he gets through with all of his up-downs and tell you he's not happy, but the defense is doing very well and is ahead right now," said head coach Houston Nutt. "Those are the same guys who finished the year playing very well and they have picked up where they left off. They are playing very fast."
Nutt said new offensive coordinator and wideout coach Gus Malzahn wore out his wide receivers in the initial practice Monday and those players were sore and tired for Tuesday's workout. True freshman Rod Coleman, one of those wide receivers, was slowed by a minor leg injury on Tuesday.
"We got great effort and you could see the passion on the tape from the first day, but we ran them long and hard yesterday and they were sore and not moving quite as good today," Nutt said. "That's okay. We have a day off for them and some work in the weight room on Wednesday before we put on the pads for Thursday."
Nutt said Tuesday was "another good day of teaching. We are opening up the playbook and giving them a lot. We are asking them to make it stick and to concentrate and give us passion every single day. They've given us two good days and I'm proud of them, but we need 13 more."
Nutt isn't surprised that the defense is ahead with the nature of the new things being added on offense, especially with the time that has been dedicated to "putting in our no-huddle and some other new things. It's just going to take us some time with that stuff to learn it all, but we are committed to running that stuff."
"You'd expect the defense to be further along," he said. "You see good things from them. It looks like Desmond Sims is doing well (at middle linebacker). Freddie Fairchild is moving good and he's got 15 more pounds. We feel good about our corners, too. The safeties, Randy Kelly is much more comfortable. John West at the other safety, he might be a little out of shape and it's not coming as fast for him. He's just not used to the intensity in the way we practice, but he'll get there."
The Hogs worked hard on kicking situations at the start of practice with Jeremy Davis holding the early edge at placekicker.
"He's the number one guy right now and he looked very, very good today, just kicked it great," Nutt said of Davis. "But we are going to look at placekickers all spring. It's early still."
Felix Jones continues to work as the number one punt returner, but he said Peyton Hillis has done the best at catching punts through two days.
"We are going to give Felix every chance there because Peyton Hillis already has enough roles, enough jobs," Nutt said. "We think Felix, with the way he makes people miss and his speed, would be great there. We'll continue to work him there and see how it shakes out."
Nutt said he likes the stability he sees on defense, especially with the addition of veteran secondary coach Louis Campbell.
"He's very thorough and meticulous," Nutt said. "Louis -- I still view him as a coach with a lot of passion, a great teacher and a very fair man. He's an old veteran, but he's really showed some passion out here, too."
Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring said much the same thing, then added, "It's good to have someone older than me out here, someone with experience and perspective. Louis has that and I like it. Mainly, I'm glad I'm not the oldest guy in the room now. Makes me feel younger."
Herring dispatched Campbell and cornerback coach Bobby Allen to the Houston Texan coaching staff earlier this winter to bring back some new wrinkles in the way they'll align their cornerbacks in press coverage.
"I wanted them to visit with John Hoke on press coverage and do some things to make it harder for wide receivers in our bump-and-run," Herring said. "It's more of a balanced approach, something to hide our leverage and our schemes. They both work, but I like this better. They are putting it in and I think it's going to work fine."
The Hogs have not put on pads yet, but Herring has already seen enough after one day to make some depth chart changes. He moved Cord Gray ahead of Keith Jackson at defensive tackle and sent Chris Houston to the second team behind Darius Vinnett.
"Keith Jackson wasn't competing like a number one, so he's been demoted after one day," Herring said. "Chris Houston was our best returning corner, but he was demoted, too. We will always grade effort.
"The thing we will always do is continue to grade effort. You can't standstill. There are no guarantees, nothing easy. You can't rest. You do, you fall behind because there are people ready to take your spot.
"Now, I'm not saying those moves are set in stone. This may be old news by Thursday or Friday. They might win their spot back. But if you have poor effort one day, you fall in the depth spot. It's that simple. We aren't going to stand poor effort, ever."
Herring said the first two days have been less than perfect despite Nutt's praise for his unit.
"You have to get back in the football mode," Herring said. "It's different. You have to get the dust off. There has been good and bad so far.
"You don't need to get too up or too down just yet. Guys are competing and trying to win jobs. That's what this about right now, but we still have not put on pads.
"You don't golf in the nude and you don't play football without pads, so you can get a false read of football players when you are in shorts. The game involves courage. When you put on pads and hit, you find something out about the players. There are some that play with more confidence and more aggression with pads. Some don't.
"So far, safety is still a mystery and our backup linebackers both the two and threes are walkons. Kelly has done good things, but we don't know about strong safety yet. West was stepping on his tongue (with fatigue) on Monday. Today, at least his tongue was in his mouth, but he was till breathing hard.
"Jamaal Anderson at end so far has been building on what he did in the last few games. He's a grown man. Sam Olajubutu is coming on and still playing well. Desmond Sims has been excellent assignment wise at a new spot (playing middle linebacker). He's competing. We'll know more when we put on pads on him, but he's been great assignment wise.
"The cornerbacks are competing and learning that new technique on press release. And, like I said, safety is up for grabs. West is just learning how to practice at the D-I level. But he heart and spirit is there with West and we have to be patient. He's a junior college guy. To get him, we had to promise him he'd start out first and we'll give him a hard look. We will find out more when we put on the pads.
"This game and that position is about tackling. It's a huge part of the position. We didn't tackle well there last year. We need to see what he can do as far as tackling. We'll find out a lot starting Thursday when the pads go on."
Herring seemed pleased overall with the first group.
"The ones, they had the hammer down, and understand what we want," he said. "They are so much further along than we were. Some of the twos are right there, too. Antwain Robinson at end has done well in everything from winter conditioning through these first two days. He's excellent as far as knowing his assignments."
Tuesday Grid Report, 3/28
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