Friday Night Grid Update, 8/18

Arkansas cleared the way for a public scrimmage with another closed workout Friday night. It also concluded two-a-days since school begins Monday. The Hogs will take the field at 6 p.m. Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Arkansas finished two-a-days with a tough practice in the rain Friday night that finished up with the offense running sprints and with another series of plays tacked on afterwards to see if they could maintain focus.

Offensive line coach Mike Markuson, noting it was Gus Malzahn's idea, thought it was a great practice and liked the way the new offensive coordinator put the players through the grueling session.

"That's the kind of stuff we need," Markuson said. "He put some pressure on them and it's good to do that. The players stepped up. It was tough, but they stepped up."

The defense was done with their workout when Malzahn asked his unit to line up on the goal line for a series of 100-yard sprints on the hot and humid evening. After several tough sprints, he called them up to run more plays. The players were obviously fatigued, but pressed through the rest of the workout as the defense took a knee to listen to coordinator Reggie Herring.

All of this happened as head coach Houston Nutt was visiting with the media. He turned several times, always smiling at what he saw.

"We had a tough workout, very hot and humid," he said. "We got a rain shower that seemed to just hover over us. We stayed out in it and practiced. We didn't go inside tonight. I think that cloud was only here over the field. The sun was shining everywhere else and there was a nice rainbow over the dorms.

"We were a little sluggish. I wanted them to be a little more excited today after a day off, but it's a tough point in preseason. It's like this every year."

Nutt said he liked the conditions because it gave the offense a chance to throw and catch in slippery conditions. He said they performed well under the conditions. Nutt said Mitch Mustain, true freshman quarterback, had an especially strong workout, particularly in the third-and-10 situation.

"Mitch is still competing," Nutt said. "In the third-and-10, he hit five in a row. He has a knack of feeling the pressure and responding. He hasn't slowed down."

Nutt also said Robert Johnson,named the starter earlier in the week, had a good night.

"We started off sluggish tonight, but we got going," Nutt said. "We are tired and beat up right now. We hit the two-week mark and that's always where it jumps on you a little bit. We are done with two-a-days, though."

Nutt said the Hogs will spend a long time in the meeting room on Saturday morning and then return for the mock scrimmage with the players taking the field at 6 p.m. He said the third team and redshirts would finish the night with a full scrimmage with tackling to the ground.

"We just won't do any tackling or scrimmaging with our first two units," he said. "We've got too many people out right now. We don't have Darren McFadden, Casey Dick, Wes Dacus, Anthony Brown, Tony Ugoh and London Crawford right now. We can't lose any more."

Ugoh sat out both workouts Friday with a hip flexor injury. He could return next week. Jose Valdez is taking snaps in his place at left tackle.

"Jose is getting a lot of meaningful reps and playing well right now," Markuson said. "Right now, we've got eight offensive linemen that are ready to play. Those eight are rolling in different spots to cover everything."

Among the other backups, Nate Garner is playing both tackle and guard. Jeremy Harrell is playing both guard and center.

Markuson said right tackle Zac Tubbs, rusty in the spring, is improving almost daily. Tubbs missed the first week of workouts with minor summer surgery, but is starting to hit his stride.

"He's not all the way back yet to where we want him to be, but he's getting closer every day," Markuson said. "He's much better in his pass sets than he was in the spring."

Markuson has been especially pleased with Garner's progress behind Tubbs.

"Out of all of my guys, Nate has had a really, really good camp," Markuson said. "He's gained a lot of strength and that has helped his confidence. He's a better player. He is playing well. Harrell is playing well at both spots, too.

"I liked what I saw tonight. We handed them a little adversity (with the running) to see who would respond. They did fine. I liked it. Coach (Malzahn) ran 'em to see who was mentally tough. We wanted to see if they would press on. The guys responded.

"We've gotten better at a lot of things this fall. Our protection is coming along. We've definitely gotten better there. We've gotten better throwing and catching, too. We've had a good camp on offense. I see the carry over from the spring. I see them coming in all areas.

"The quarterbacks are doing a nice job of getting rid of the ball. They don't hold it. They know where they are going with it and they are making it easier for us to protect. Hey, you miss a guy sometimes and the quarterback has to do something with it in a hurry. They can do that. We are just getting better with a lot of things."

There were more positive reviews for freshman corner Jerrell Norton. The Cedar Hill, Texas product put on shoulder pads (with shorts) for the first time.

"He's on schedule," Herring said. "It's too early on him, but he's on schedule. He's doing everything right so far. We need another week to see what he can learn and where he is at that point. So far, so good. He is a talent."

Nutt shed some more light on the placekicker battle. He said Stephen Arnold and Dan Bailey have had an impressive week and are locked in a tight battle. He said they will get a hard look again Saturday night, along with Jeremy Davis.

"Arnold and Bailey haven't missed this week," Nutt said. "We've called them up to kick four straight to end each practice. They've both gone four-for-four. I can't remember having a week with no misses from two kickers here in a long time. Todd Latourette might have done it our first year, gone a week without missing.

"We are going to keep working it. It's a very nice positive right now. We are going to keep looking at Jeremy Davis, but those two, Arnold and Bailey, are doing very well."

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