Arkansas continued to look for a free safety with Michael Grant the latest working with the first team as the Hogs moved inside Walker Pavilion to dodge Thursday afternoon's thunderstorms.
"It was a real good practice thanks to having a great building like this," Houston Nutt said. "We should never take for granted that we have this building from the Walker family.
"Our guys are getting better. We made a move today, an experiment. We put Michael Grant at free safety. We are not throwing the other guys away, but we want to try to get our best 11 on the field. We have some depth at cornerback where Michael was at and he's played some free safety in high school.
"He had a good day. I watched him in one-on-one tackling against our wide receivers. He didn't back away.
"It's still early, though. He did a good job for the first day and he's played there before. He's a 10.4 guy in the 100 meters and we like his speed there."
Grant is among the biggest of the UA cornerbacks. He measures 5-11, 185 pounds. He looks the part at safety with a physical presence and he has the vertical jump to make plays in the air, something he did at practice Thursday.
Secondary coach Louis Campbell seemed pleased with Grant's play, but warned there won't be a definitive answer to the experiement until the Hogs scrimmage on Saturday.
"We'll have to put the ball down and see how he plays, but there is no substitute for great speed," Campbell said. "There were two passes that he went and got, covered a lot of ground. And, he tackled well for what we did. We had him in one-on-one tackling drills and he got plenty of live work in middle drills. He did not look shy. He stuck his nose in there. What we have to see is if he can learn safety and prove he's not just a fast guy back there. Tackling in the open field is the hardest thing to learn so when we see him tackle in game situations -- that will be the defining moment for him.
"He seems happy to be there. It was a chance to go to a position and work with the first team and he accepted it gladly. He was good in meetings and he seemed good out here today. But, it's still early. If he can tackle in the scrimmage, then we'll know more. It's an experiement, but I like it right now and I want to see more from him there."
Nutt said it was a good day for the quarterbacks, too. He noted that Casey Dick had one of his best days, although the other QBs also stepped up, too.
"Casey hit some nice throws and was more accurate," Nutt said. "He threw it well. He hit some nice slants, right on the button. He was much better in that area. I liked what the others did, too. It looks like our timing is coming together. We need to just keep improving and get more consistent at quarterback. But I like the progress right now."
That appears to be the case for the offensive line, too.
"That first day last week, we probably had 20 sacks," Nutt said. "Now, I don't have an exact number. I didn't count them. It could have been more. There are very few sacks now. Our guys up front are getting a lot of work since we have a lot of guys to work in the O-line now."
They are actually going to be one man short the next few days since left tackle Tony Ugoh is spending more time with the track team.
"Tony is getting ready for the Texas Relays and the outdoor track season," Nutt said. "That is good news for Jose Valdez and Andrew Davie. Those guys are going to get a lot of work at left tackle."
Nutt said he's been disappointed somewhat with the way his tackles have setup in pass protection.
"Tony is going to miss that work and he needs it," Nutt said. "Both our tackles need to get better on their pass sets. Zac Tubbs is improving. He's come a long way in the last week. He's been out with an injury for most of the last two years. But he's getting better and making a lot of improvement. He's made the most improvement of any of them."
Nutt said several wide receivers were held out of Thursday's workout to make sure they are available for the important scrimmages later this spring. Marcus Monk, Reggie Fish and Rod Coleman both have minor leg injuries, but are improving.
"Just slight pulls, and we want to get them back soon and I think we will," he said.
Nutt likes the way the offensive system is coming together with new coordinator Gus Malzahn.
"When you add the formations and the movement and then put threats at every position, it makes it tough on the defense," he said. "It keeps the defense from over populating the line of scrimmage. The thing that we need is for our wide receivers to be tremendous threats. If they demand double coverage, it changes things up front for our running game. Then we have more running lanes. You have some one-on-one situations."
Former UA defensive coordinator John Thompson, now retired from coaching and in private business in Conway, attended practice along with the Harding University staff led by Ronnie Huckeba. Both coaches liked what they saw of the UA offense.
"That's an SEC offense," Thompson said, when asked what he saw in practice. "I know Gus Malzahn coached in high school last year, but he's going to give SEC defenses a lot to worry about and he's got the right personnel. I see those backs and I see how he's using them. I would not want to defend that. I wouldn't. I really, really like what they are doing. I got a good look and got out there where I could see it. It's something."
Huckeba said the same thing.
"I've known what Gus has been doing and he's very, very good at it," Huckeba said. "He'll see some junk defenses in the SEC that he hasn't seen, but he'll do fine. He is extremely smart and he recognizes things and will handle it fine. He is going to see some defenses that are good. But I bet those defensive coaches are not going to like defending the personnel he's got and the way he's using it."
Thursday Grid Report, 4/6
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