Thursday Grid Update, 11/10

After a couple of days with the defense holding the upper hand, the offense took control Thursday night. It was a big night for wide receiver Damian Williams. The freshman from Springdale made plays down the field and in the screen game as the Hogs worked under the lights in their first practice in full pads.

Quarterback Casey Dick did not participate in any of the passing drills in Thursday night's practice, but Arkansas coach Houston Nutt indicated he expects his sophomore signal caller to participate in Saturday night's scrimmage and possibly Friday's practices as the Hogs begin two-a-days.

The head coach also indicated that both Mitch Mustain and Robert Johnson had outstanding practices Thursday night. When asked if it was Mustain's best workout, Nutt said, "Probably so." Nutt also praised freshman wideout Damian Williams for a solid workout. Williams caught two touchdown passes -- one from both Johnson and Mustain -- in the team portion of the workout, the first in full pads.

One of the most interesting plays of the night was an incomplete pass. Peyton Hillis, wearing a green "no contact" jersey along with Felix Jones and Marcus Monk, had his helmet knocked loose on a hit by free safety Michael Grant near the corner pylon. Both Nutt and secondary coach Louis Campbell were both pleased about the play, despite the green jersey Hillis sported.

"Michael Grant had played soft in the spring," Nutt said. "That wasn't a soft play. Plus, it wasn't a cheap shot. He was going for the ball and went through Hillis to get there. He is competing for a position. He made a play. That was good."

Campbell said, "Michael Grant lost his starting spot two nights ago and he's come back with a vengance the last two nights. I was encouraged by that play. I doubt he knew it was a green jersey. His eyes are supposed to be in the air towards the ball and not on the man. I was encouraged by his play on that situation."

Nutt added, "If he'd gone after him low, or made a cheap shot, that would be different."

Nutt liked the play of the wide receivers. He mentioned Chris Baker and Carlton Salters as having a good workout along with Williams.

Nutt said he did not want to have any players in green jerseys, but he was asked by defensive coordinator Reggie Herring to reconsider.

"Reggie explained to me that his players are fighting to get off blocks and sometimes don't have their eyes in a position to see numbers," Nutt said. "He said all they see is red and that isn't enough to keep from hitting a back. They wouldn't know if it was 22 or 25, just a red jersey."

Even with green jerseys, Jones and Hillis both took shots. Early in the 11-on-11 session, end Jamaal Anderson released down the line to give Jones a hard two-hand shove that put the back on the ground. Hillis took a shot later, well before his collision with Grant.

There was at least two times when a large crowd on the west grassy bank booed when offensive players were hit by the defense, one on a possible pass interference penalty that officials did not call.

"It was an atmosphere like you see in an NFL camp, when they let the fans in," Nutt said. "I think it motivates our players. The only thing I don't like is all the Internet reports by fans. That's what I worry about."

Some fans were snapping pictures during the team portion from behind the end zone with cell cameras. Media are not allowed to take pictures except in the individual portions of practice in the first 20 minutes when no formations will be shown. That is precisely why practices will be closed starting next week.

Dick wasn't the only player to sit out the practice. Starting cornerback Chris Houston did not put on pads after sustaining a mild concussion when his helmet hit the turf on Wednesday. He had mild headaches Thursday. He should return on Friday.

Other players sustaining minor injuries were linebackers Ryan Powers and Chip Gregory. Gregory, with a shoulder injury (slight dislocation) that bothered him in high school, might be out until Monday. Nutt said defensive end Chris Wade, who stood out in middle drills Thursday, banged up a shoulder late in practice.

"I don't think any of those are bad," Nutt said. "Chris Wade has been coming on. We'll see how he is tomorrow. He did make some plays in middle drills. But I didn't like the way he was holding that shoulder when he left the field."

There was some good news on the injury front. Tailback Michael Smith, out with a hamstring injury, is healing fast and should return by Monday, according to Nutt. Offensive tackle Zac Tubbs returned to practice full speed after sitting out some of the contact work because of minor surgery last week.

Interestingly, Tubbs may have helped the protection. The offensive line gave both quarterbacks ample time throughout the team segments of practice. Defensive tackle Marcus Harrison was upset that his unit could not breakthrough the protection.

"We fell back tonight and the offense handed our hats to us," Harrison said. "If you are going to be a good defense, you have to be consistent. We got a talking to by our coaches after this practice. We took a step back. It starts up front. The D-line is supposed to set the tone. We didn't tonight."

Tubbs said it was a matter of bringing more intensity up front.

"We got a talking to tonight before the practice by our coaches," Tubbs said. "Coach (Mike) Markuson gave us a pep talk before the workout about protection. We did a little better. They may not have blitzed as much tonight, but we picked up the blitzes they brought.

"I think part of it is finally getting in full pads. You can't take someone to the ground if you don't have pads. We were more physical tonight. We were doing some things that we couldn't do the first four days. It's still going to be a day-to-day thing we have to work on. Protection is something that takes work every single day. But we were better tonight."

Secondary coach Louis Campbell thought the defense was en route to another good workout until the team session and the red zone work that ended the night.

"We were pretty good in pass scale," Campbell said. "Our coverage was good and we made some plays. Then, over the last five, six, seven plays, the offense made some plays on us and in the passing game. They got down the field and beat us.

"Some of it was a couple of busts. Some of it was wrong angles. Randy Kelly took a wrong angle once, got a little flat. Matt Hewitt took a wrong angle another time, got a little flat. Part of that was seeing real speed. I'm not sure in junior college if Matt had seen this kind of speed or seen a quarterback who could throw like that. Those were some nice throws. Another time, someone, and I'm not sure who, just turned someone loose."

Williams had two of the TD catches and John Aaron Reese had another.

"We didn't allow those kinds of plays until the end of the night," Campbell said. "Until then, I thought we were doing a nice job. I'll be anxious to see the film to see who Reese ran by, and what happened. He may have gone by more than one."

Asked about blitzes, Campbell said, "We blitzed tonight. They got picked up, mostly. We probably blitzed more last night than we did tonight, but we definitely blitzed some tonight. We wanted to see some coverage situations tonight and we saw that. We've got to do better. We probably ran a few more fire zone blitzes yesterday and went with a little more coverage situations today. We wanted to see coverage situations tonight."

Campbell said Grant has made a move to fight for his position after Hewitt was moved to the first team two nights ago.

"I think Michael has come out with a vengance to regain his spot," Campbell said. "He is really been competing the last two days. That's exactly what we wanted to see.

"It wasn't just the play (he hit Hillis). He's made a statement the last two days. He's got that dislocated finger and the doctors and trainers have asked him not to put that injury in jeopardy, but he hasn't listened. He's been stepping up. That's what we wanted to see.

"Hewitt has played well, too. He's been matter of fact about it, too. This morning we were in a walk through in the Broyles Center in the indoor workout area. There isn't a lot of room and he was towards the back of the playing surface. That's where the safeties have to line up. I was back behind him. He kept stepping on me or backing into me.

"I was kind of joking to him, trying to be funny, 'Hey, watch out for me, I'm your coach!' He just said, 'Coach, I'm just trying to do my job.' He didn't laugh or apologize at all. He was dead serious. It was like, 'Coach, you better get the heck out of my way.' I liked it.

"Both of those guys are going at it, trying to win a job. It's exactly what you want if you are the coach. We've got a battle and what we wanted."

The kicking game got a hard look at the close of practice with Dan Bailey stepping up with the best night of any of the placekickers so far, according to the head coach.

"I was wanting to see someone put the ball through the uprights, and Dan Bailey did tonight," Nutt said.

Stephen Arnold was the first placekicker up and he missed both of his attempts. Jeremy Davis followed and was one for two. Bailey followed with a make from the center, and then a make from the left hash. After two more misses from a fourth kicker (not on the roster), Bailey was brought back for a third kick. His teammates cheered as he nailed it, too.

Someone asked if the dark conditions (the only lights available on the practice field are of the portable variety), might have hurt the kickers. Nutt just laughed.

"I'm telling you, when I was growing up, we played in the streets and all we had was the street lights at night," Nutt said. "You ought to be able to kick with this much light. We had less light than this in the street when I was growing up. Bailey looked good. He put them all right through."

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