Tuesday Grid Report, 4/11

Arkansas showed improvement on both sides of the ball during a two-hour football practice in full pads, the Hogs' 12th of the spring. The team will take Wednesday off, then wrap up spring drills with workouts Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The Hogs were sharp at the outset Tuesday, unlike their work from the previous day, according to head coach Houston Nutt.

"We had a better day," Nutt said. "We had good concentration. When you do that, you find out that you can make some plays and carry out assignments.

"We are not there yet, but we had fewer mistakes today. They saw that when they have 11 going full speed on both sides of the ball, we can have a good team. I am proud of them overall. We had a good day."

Offensive guard Stephen Parker said the Hogs' solid play on Tuesday started with a meeting after Monday's workout where offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn gave them a stern message.

"Yesterday, after we were done, he called us sloppy and told us how it was going to be if we were going to be on his offense," said Parker, the senior left guard. "He told us that to play that way was not acceptable. If we couldn't play it the right way, then we needed to get off his offense. He made it clear it was his offense and let us know what was expected.

"He didn't raise his voice. It is cut and dried with him. You don't want it his way, then get off the offense. He stood up and took control yesterday. It was pretty cool."

Parker is the most physical member of a physical offensive front. He's always been one that likes the running game and prefers smashmouth over any other style. That does not mean he objects to Malzahn's way.

"Not at all, like I said, he's pretty darn cool," Parker said. "He's sharp, very intelligent. He is precise. He is really cool.

"We know we have been one of the best running teams in the nation, but we could run all of those fakes and look like we were going to pass and put wideouts split outside, but people didn't honor it. They knew we were going to run it and it didn't fool anyone.

"Now, we are balanced. We can go either way. We still have our run package. We can run it with the best of us. But we are learning to pass and we are learning to protect. You could see us get better today. It's been coming.

"The pass protection is coming together. The blitzes are slowing down. We are seeing them now. It's like we knew what was coming but now we see it. Coach (Reggie) Herring's defense has been giving us all the looks we need to prepare for anyone on our schedule. They are very good and playing well. They are throwing everything at us and we are starting to pick it up now. And, we have some things that are hard for them and that tells us it will be hard for everyone. Our backs in space -- the quick screens and the other passes. Those guys are amazing in space, our backs."

Parker likes what he sees across the ball from the offensive line.

"For me, I know each day that I'm going to work against quality SEC type defensive tackles," Parker said. "Our starters with Marcus Harrison and Keith Jackson are very good and very physical. Plus, there is depth over there. They are pushing us every play, every day. That's making us better. It's very good for our offensive line and our offense. Plus, we know that Coach Herring's unit is going to play hard on every snap.

"We've always been pretty good with our zone blocking stuff, but we are getting the man scheme down now," Parker said. "If you are going against Jackson and Harrison each snap, you are going to get a good test and a good picture of what you have to do in the SEC."

Herring said his bunch is starting to get excited about the coming Red-White game. He likes the format that will put both first teams on the same unit in Red. They will face off against the second and third team in White.

"We are still going to compete and it's competition, but we will begin to build the team since we will be on the same sideline with the first offense," Herring said. "That's good. We are still going to be evaluating personnel. We are still trying to compete for positions, but the teamwork aspect comes in to play here and that's good.

"That's the beauty of this format, it gives us a chance to feel like a team. The first offense and first defense have been going after each other all spring and now they get a chance to come together and work on the same team.

"The other thing that is important is to see how the players react to a crowd. Sometimes playing in front of a crowd changes a player. It's different for a lot of players. It gives them a chance to elevate their game in that situation and gives the coaches a chance to evaluate players in that situation. Like I said, it's often different and we want to see if it changes a player. You need that in evaluation. Playing in front of a crowd is going to very valuable to the coaches in our process."

Herring likes what he sees at free safety from Michael Grant, now in his second week after moving from cornerback to the first unit.

"He's the one who has the ability to play it back there," he said. "He's got the speed and ability. He is still learning, but he's geting it. He's making improvement and he seems comfortable there. I think he's going to be fine."

The Hogs started the spring with junior college transfer John West at free safety, but he's now on the third team.

"John West is going to need some time," Herring said. "First, he needed to adjust to the pace of Division I football. It was a change for him and it took him some time.

"Now John West is learning our schemes. He hadn't played this system and it was something that took him time. That frustrated him, but we are not frustrated with him. He's going to be fine. He is going to help us at some point. We just don't want to rush him. With junior college players, it takes time. The problem is that you have to promise them that they'll start off with the first team are you aren't going to get him here in the first place. We did give him a good look and we were fair to him. Now we are getting him ready. He's going to stick it out and help us. I believe that. He has ability."

Herring likes what he's seen this spring.

"I think we've got a pretty good first ll," he said. "We have a unit that is getting better and will represent Arkansas well. I'm worried about depth and safety is still a little unclear. But we are going to get there.

"What I see is that we've come a long way from last year at this point. Now we are trying to elevate our standards. I think we've put pressure on them to keep elevating and they are doing that. We are working harder than ever. It never gets easy, but the picture is getting more clear."

Peyton Hillis drives off the line in front of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn early in Tuesday's workout.

Mark Bonner (10) works under the watch of Louis Campbell (right).

Matterral Richardson (16) works against the sled as cornerback coach Bobby Allen instructs.

Photos by Clay Henry

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