Saturday Grid Report, 4/8

Offense has controlled the tempo for most of the first two weeks of spring drills, but the defense stood tall on Saturday.

The defense destroyed an offense void of its best weapons in a two-hour scrimmage Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

The first team defense had its way throughout the day after battering the top offense and quarterback Casey Dick on the opening possession. Defensive tackle Marcus Harrison was on top of the quarterbacks throughout the afternoon.

Felix Jones had a long run on an end-around and Peyton Hillis hauled in two long passes, one of them against the top unit, for the offensive highlights of the day.

Wide receivers were in short supply as Rod Coleman, Cedric Washington, Chris Baker and Reggie Fish were held out of the workout with leg injuries. Marcus Monk and John Aaron Rees were also hobbled, but did participate.

Tailback Darren McFadden did participate, but was used mostly as a decoy after trainers advised holding him out of contact because of some slight swelling on a knee that was surgically repaired in January.

"We didn't have very many wideouts today," said Gus Malzahn, offensive coordinator. "At the same time, the defense was a lot better than us today. They got after us. We had some busts that hurt us, but the defense came after us and we could never get any momentum on offense.

"We had a tough start and we are limited because of defense, but the main thing is the defense got after us. I'd say every wide receiver we have right now is banged up. And, we didn't want to see Felix, Darren and Peyton hit on today. Overall, it was ugly, but there are one or two things that will get corrected and things will be better next Saturday."

That was in reference to next week's spring game, set for Saturday, April 15 at 1 p.m.

Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring was in a much better frame of mind than the previous Saturday when the offense had the better day. He was especially pleased with the play of junior Michael Grant at free safety.

"Point blank, Michael Grant may be what we are looking for at safety," Herring said. "Kudos to Coach Nutt. It was his idea to move him two or three days ago. We were at wit's end. I didn't even know he had played some safety in high school.

"It might be as big a move as we can make for this defense. Safety was an eye sore. Grant came in and gave us some range at safety. He has shown us he can play the open field and make some tackles. He is the missing link. He looks like he is going to be an exciting player back there. He made plays today. Again, I had no idea he had played some safety. He looks like a natural back there to me. We are very pleased with this move."

Herring liked the effort and intensity of the defense, handing out special praise for Harrison and his line mates. However, he said you better keep in perspective the watered-down nature of the weapons on the offensive side.

"They rested No. 5 (Darren McFadden)," he said. "And, they didn't run Felix Jones much. That gives it a false picture. They don't have their wideouts right now, either. You are never going to know what we have until we play Southern Cal in the opener. Right now, we are just evaluating players and checking competition. That's all spring is about, finding and evaluating players.

"Just keep that in perspective. I just know we still gave up some big plays. We have a hard time covering Peyton Hillis. He is a big, physical back who can get open in space and then is hard to bring down. He got to us again today and he's done that to us all spring. He gets into space and makes it hard on you.

"I will say that the effort was good. Harrison gave a tremendous effort, like he's done all spring. I like the competition we are getting at end with Antwain Robinson and Anthony Brown. They are a two-headed number one. Each brings a different thing and we are hopeful that they can each improve the area where the other one is better."

The defensive players were in a good mood afterwards, too.

"This was a good day because there have been some where the offense has gotten us pretty good," Harrison said. "Coach Herring cut back our work yesterday and took it off our legs and we had to give it to him today because of that. We were fresh and active. We were ready to go. We came together a little bit today.

"I knew we were better than what we've been this spring. It's been tough for us some days. That offense has gotten better. But we had it going today.

"We've been getting blocked a little, but not so much today. And, this was a good day because my boy back there at safety, Michael Grant, brought it and has helped this defense. You know, this is the weekend the track team goes to the Texas Relays. That could be him, but he stayed here to play football and help our team. I love him for that."

Grant said he never once thought about going to the Texas Relays this spring.

"I wasn't going to do track this year, concentrating on football instead this spring," he said. "Maybe I'll do track when spring is done. But I came here on football scholarship and I'm a football player.

"Even before they moved me to safety, I was staying here to play football. I am liking safety, though. I'm comfortable there. I need to make my reads a little quicker, but I understand them.

"Corner is about just staying with the wideout. Safety is about reading the QB's eyes. I'm doing that, but I need to be quicker.

"I'm not having any trouble with the other part of it, playing physical and making tackles in the open field. I love to hit. If you play football, you better like to hit. Trust me, I'm not scared to hit someone.

"Track? That was my decision. When I came here, the coaches promised I could do track, too, but I need to get better on the football field this spring. I need to make my impact with this team and now is the time."

Strong safety Randy Kelly applauds his new running mate at safety.

"Michael? Boy, it's good to have him back there," Kelly said. "He's got the speed to keep people in front of him. And, he can run down our mistakes. He made some plays over the top today, getting to passes. His coverage is good and he closes so, so fast. He's going to help us so much. I'm so happy."

Offensively, Malzahn didn't seem terribly worried about the off day by his unit.

"Our protection wasn't where it needs to be, but it's been getting better," he said. "We've had some very good days in the last two weeks. It's always going to be some days in the spring where the defense does better than what you do and you also know that Reggie has had that bunch together two years and they are very tough to block. They gave us a couple of new blitzes today and we missed the calls.

"Our line didn't protect as well as it could, the quarterbacks didn't get the ball off as quick as they could and our wideouts didn't get open. Just remember, it's not all the fault of the quarterbacks. They need to have some weapons to go against that defense.

"Our quarterbacks were a little banged up. Robert Johnson was a little banged up coming in and Casey got hit pretty good at the start. That gave Alex Mortensen a few more reps at the end.

"Casey took a good shot at the start and he took another shot on the goal line and was groggy, but he still didn't want to come out. I like the way he competed today.

"The defense schemed us up pretty good today. They were coming from everywhere. That is good for us to see. It'll make us better and it will be good for our players to see this film.

"We want our quarterbacks to get hit live. They are competing for a job and you find out a little more about them when they are getting knocked around. You find out something different when it's live. I like that approach.

"Just remember, this is just one day. I feel good that we've improved a lot from the first day. It's to be expected that the defense is going to win some days. And, they are pretty good. It's good to go against the ones because they can play."

The head coach praised the defense, too. Houston Nutt mentioned Harrison, Brown, Robinson, Jamaal Anderson, Fred Bledsoe and Marcus Shavers.

"Even the second defensive line is stepping up," Nutt said. "Shavers and Bledsoe did very well. I thought Weston Dacus played well with that second linebacker group and you know that Sam Olajubutu, Freddie Fairchild and Desmond Sims are playing well every day."

In the extended work on placekicking, Nutt said he liked what he saw from Jeremy Davis, Stephen Arnold and Joe Hall. He said Davis has been the most consistent of that group, but noted he missed two kicks on Saturday.

"Hall hit the ball really well and it looked like the ball was really coming off his foot today," Nutt said. "I'm proud of him."

Asked about the quarterback battle, Nutt said, "Casey Dick is getting better. What needs to happen is for us to get a good cast with him. He's still got some things to learn, but he's improving."

Reggie Herring (right) and Louis Campbell call the defensive signals.

The crowd of around 1,200 was spread throughout the west stands.

Casey Dick drops back as Marcus Monk (85) begins a route.

Chris Vaughn (right) visits with UA signees Mitch Mustain, Damian Williams and Ben Cleveland.

Mike Markuson (right) greets Shawn Andrews at the start of Saturday's scrimmage.

Jeremy Davis (50) follows through on a kick Saturday.

Photos by Clay Henry

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