Thursday Grid Report, 4/13

The heat tested Arkansas' mental toughness at practice Thursday.

Arkansas finished its final full pads practice -- with the exception of Saturday's Red-White spring game -- in hot and steamy conditions, especially for April. Houston Nutt seemed pleased with the heat, calling it "June like" and praising the way most of the team fought through the weather on Thursday.

"We've gotten some heat the last few days and it's been tough on them a little bit," Nutt said. "It jumped on them pretty good today when we were on the artificial turf. It got hot on them good today."

The Hogs will take off the pads on Friday to rehearse for Saturday's Red-White game. Nutt said the squad will be split into units the way they'll line up Saturday.

"The sun came out and we did get a little sluggish, but we had a good spring and I was proud of them," Nutt said. "I like the heat. I'm a warm weather guy and I thought it was good what we've got the last few days. We've gotten beter. We are better as a team blocking and tackling.

"We'll divide up tomorrow and go over some things. We'll make sure we have the kicking teams right. We are going to be on TV and we want to be sharp Saturday. We'll try to coach 'em up on the kicking situations.

"It's good because we've got a lot of former coaches here, a lot of lettermen and former players. It's going to be a great kids day Saturday. There's a lot to do. It's going to be an alumni weekend, a baseball weekend and it's going to be exciting around here."

Nutt said Saturday's game will be an interesting situation in that it is a game, but he wants his players to know it's also "another practice and we are going to use it to evaluate positions for the depth chart. I don't want anyone going through the motion because positions are up for grab. I want to see hungry players, passion."

Nutt said it's been a good spring for some of the backups including defensive linemen Marcus Shavers, Cord Gray and Fred Bledsoe.

"Those guys in the defensive line have stepped things up," Nutt said. "Farod Jackson has proven he can have a valuable role. He's physical. He knows our offense. He and Michael Smith and Reggie Fish, they have a role in this offense and now they can show us that we need to expande it by the way they play Saturday. That's what this game is about."

Strong safety Randy Kelly did not practice to attend to some academic work. He'll return Friday and play in Saturday's game.

"We want him to concentrate on school work, but he's going to come back tomorrow," Nutt said. "He's been doing his homework the last few days."

Offensive line coach Mike Markuson indicated his unit is getting better on man protection in their pass blocking, something the Hogs have used, but not as much since this staff's second year on the hill.

"We've had it, but we haven't worked on it as much since Clint Stoerner and that bunch left," Markuson said. "Our first two years, we were very much in man protection because we did a lot of things with three and four wideouts. That's the only way to protect in that formation. You've got five offensive linemen and there are four down linemen and the mike linebacker. You man up.

"We've had it, but didn't use it because we were in tight end formations a lot because we didn't have the jet wideouts like we had those first two years when Anthony Lucas was our best wide receiver.

"Now, with Gus Malzahn here and more wideouts on the way, those jet guys, then we'll be in three and four wide again. We'll go back to that man protection. Our guys have fought hard to get it right this spring.

"The interesting thing is that we still will use the zone blocking scheme. Some probably didn't realize it, but Gus did both at Springdale and we will do both here. There are some of our plays that you must zone block, those same plays Gus zone blocked at Springdale. So it works out well what we are doing together as far as man and zone.

"If we are in the gun, about the only way to protect it is in gap. That's man. In our power and our counters, that's zone. So we are doing both.

"There are three ways to block. There is gap (or man), there is zone and there is veer. The only ones blocking veer are the academies. And, there are sometimes in blitzes that you have to do a little both. You man it and then turn it back. So you do both there.

"The thing is, we are spending a whole lot more time in our man protection this spring. It's the toughest, but we've done well with it. We just have to get the combinations together with the backs. We'll get there and in fact, we are getting there pretty well.

"Our last two practices, we've worked a lot of third-and-8 and third-and-10s, so that is pass and that is multiple wideouts. We've been man protecting it and I'd say the results have been very positive. I feel good about where we are and I think Gus does, too.

"Gus has been great. He's brought a different voice out here. He's made guys accountable with a different voice. They've responded and it's been very good. He's upped the tempo and we all have a real good feeling about where we are and where we are going.

"He's put a different spin on things and it's helped. You need that. Our guys know that we have more wideouts coming and another great quarterback on the way. They are very positive about what's going on this spring and what lies ahead in the fall."

Running backs coach Danny Nutt said a lot of the same things and indicated his running backs are excited about the multiple formations where they often will all be on the field at the same time, sometimes in the slot as wideouts.

"It's been a good spring, very good," Nutt said. "Of course, I'm the lucky one. Look at who I'm coaching. This is the best bunch of backs I've ever been around. I've got the best bunch on the team, in my opinion. They are the best I've coached.

"They are tough, they have speed, they are quick and they are very smart. I'm very lucky. They come to work every day and they love this offense, the way they are being used.

"Peyton Hillis is a great one and is our backbone. He's great in space and that's what we are doing, utilizing our backs in space. He knows that and is excited. You see him staying late to go over things with Coach Malzahn and Coach (Alex) Wood. He's pumped.

"But the others are doing that, too. These guys are ball players and they love what they are doing."

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