Houston Nutt said Darren McFadden will need clearance from "doctors and trainers" before he can play Saturday night against Southern Cal, but there was a hint of excitement in the voice of the Arkansas head coach when he upgraded his injured tailback from doubtful to "questionable" after Wednesday's shorts and shoulder pads practice.
McFadden was able to practice for a few periods Wednesday as the Hogs continued to tone down the physical nature of their workouts. They'll have another tuneup Thursday before finishing with a walk through on Friday for the 7:45 p.m. start in a soldout Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Most of Nutt's talk with the media after Wednesday's practice concerned the status of McFadden, considered "doubtful" for the SC game since he sustained a broken toe in an incident before the start of practice.
"We'll know more towards the end of the week," Nutt said. "It may go all the way up until game time before we make a decision (on whether he can play against USC).
"Darren is making progress. It's good to see he and Casey Dick and London Crawford back out there. All three were at practice today and Peyton Hillis looked good. We held him out yesterday as a precaution."
Could McFadden and Dick play a significant role against Southern Cal?
"It's always hard when you miss camp," Nutt said. "I'll say that Casey feels good now. We'll keep evaluating them all week. I'll just say that right now Darren is questionable for this game."
What will it take for McFadden to play?
"It will be a combination of two things," Nutt said. "Right now, he's still limited. If he is limited, we won't play him. We won't put him out there if he isn't able to do the things he does. We won't take the chance that he would get hurt.
"Also, we want to make sure he is healed. If there is a chance that he could reinjure it because it's not healed, then he won't play.
"We haven't seen him really turn it loose yet. If he can't do that, he won't play.
"First and foremost, the doctors and trainers have to give him the okay. If he's got a chance to reinjure the toe, that's critical."
Can he cut and how will the toe hold up to contact?
"Those are the questions," Nutt said. "We just don't know yet about all of those questions. When we get to the end of the week, we'll know more."
As for playing Dick, Nutt said, "Robert Johnson has had a real good camp. He's a year older. He's making better decisions. He's got the work this camp."
Nutt was asked about the progress his team has made on offense and defense. Specifically, have the Hogs improved at wideout?
"Absolutely, we have," he said. "We've got Ben Cleveland, John Aaron Rees, Chris Baker and maybe London Crawford to go with guys like Marcus Monk, Cedric Washington and Damian Williams. We are better there for sure."
The Hogs withheld one of those wideouts on Wednesday. Washington, with a stiff back, sat out, but should be fine for the weekend.
Defensively, Nutt likes the way the Hogs have performed both at the end of last season, spring drills and throughout fall camp.
"We are a more confident defense," he said. "We can make plays. I'm pleased with our defense. They are playing well right now."
Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring likes the feel of his troops, too. But he said they won't really know where they stand until after they play the Trojans, the team that whipped the Hogs, 70-17, last year.
"One way or another, we have to get our manhood back," Herring said. "With the way we have practiced and performed this fall, we expect to give them a good fight. We are ready to play this game. We know this is the game that will finally give us some answers.
"We are edging closer to the time where we will know where we are. We have carried this game for close to a year."
What will be the defensive keys?
"We can't give up big plays," Herring said. "Last year, we gave them easy touchdowns. Southern Cal earned them. Let's be clear on that, but those were not characteristic of the kind of plays we gave up after that game. I don't want to take away from what they did on the field, but we didn't do those things again. They were things you can't explain.
"We are not the same team now. We are the kind of team that I think can carry the game into the fourth quarter. I think our defense will give our team a chance to win the game. We just have to make sure we don't allow anything cheap like we did last year. We aren't that kind of team anymore."
Herring likes the attitude, work ethic and desire of this team.
"Still, we need this game to get our spirit back," he said. "We are playing for the spirit and soul of our team. We earned a spanking last year. Now we have a chance to redeem ourselves. That's all you can ask for in football, a second chance. We have it and I think we will fight. Thank goodness we have this game."
Herring said the only question mark he's felt this week concerned the health of backup linebacker Weston Dacus.
"He's full speed," Herring said. "We are physically ready and able to play the game. I feel good about Dacus. I thought he was about ready last week, but we held him out a few more days to make sure. He's responded very well to treatment. He's back 100 percent. He practiced at all three linebacker spots and he makes us stable at all three. We're ready."
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