Arkansas coach Houston Nutt kept his team in a meeting before practice, delaying the Wednesday workout by some 30 minutes as the Hogs worked for almost two hours in preparation for Saturday's game at Vanderbilt.
"We had a team meeting and we were late getting started today," Nutt said. "But we had a very good day. We had good intensity and good focus, exactly what we had to have. It was a very businesslike day."
That was the look the media got early in the practice before the gates were closed per the usual Wednesday routine. Coaches and players alike had their jaw set as they came onto the field. They had tunnel vision as they entered the practice feild and there were few words spoken to anyone they passed.
Asked afterwards if there was anything in particular that went on behind closed doors to get that atmosphere at practice, Nutt just said, "We want to be ready to play."
Nutt asked if players and coaches could be excused from their usual chores with the media because their pre-practice routine was changed because of the long meeting before the workout.
"I want our guys to get back up to the Broyles Center to get some film study and some meetings that we didn't get to before the practice," Nutt said. "Let them get out of here today, please."
Nutt did stay longer with the media. Along with the head coach, defensive coordinator Reggie Herring met with the media, as is always the case on Wednesdays. Other coaches declined interviews.
"We had another good day of preparation," Nutt said. "Our linebackers are getting better. They are still making mistakes, but fewer mistakes. What I like from those three freshmen is that they are all very good listeners. They listen twice as much as they talk and I like that."
Tailback Felix Jones, slowed in practice Tuesday with a minor back injury, returned to full speed on Wednesday.
"Felix looked good today, a lot better than yesterday," Nutt said.
Nutt was asked if the team had focused on last year's Vandy game.
"We have watched film of that game," Nutt said. "You don't have to say a whole lot. The film tells the story. We have talked to them about some of the missed opportunities.
"We have focused more on what has happened to us this year and how we've been stopped. Mostly, we've stopped ourselves. We've focused on that."
Nutt said the Vanderbilt game was "very key because it's the start of league play. It's a very, very, very important game."
Placekicker has been a big focus in practice this week. Stephen Arnold had a solid day, but Nutt said the competition between Arnold and Jeremy Davis would likely continue all the way until the pre-game workouts.
"These guys are working very hard," Nutt said. "We need to have good kicking game this week."
Nutt said Mitch Mustain has performed well for two straight days at quarterback.
"Mitch did a good job and is making good decisions," Nutt said.
Asked about the defense not producing any turnovers, Nutt said, "Those will come. Sometimes they come in droves. What I like is that our defense is playing hard. I'm more worried with what we do, can we avoid turnovers and play solid as far as field position."
Reggie Herring, the defensive coordinator, talked about turnovers, too.
"We haven't gotten any yet, but they will come," he said. "It's the nature of the two teams we played. They don't give up sacks because of protection and they did safe things.
"We do want to force turnovers. Every defense wants that. We want to pressure the quarterback. That's what we are going to try again this week. We are going to keep working on that. I understand we haven't gotten any. I look at the stats, but I will be more concerned if we are still looking at (no turnovers) when we get a little deeper in the season.
"I think the turnovers will come. We are not going to change the way we play defense. We will continue to be aggressive."
Herring likes the way his freshman linebackers, now his backups, have practiced.
"I don't think any coach in America wants to play freshmen, but it's part of it now, it's a trend," he said. "It's always tough when you play a freshman. But we did that last year with Freddie Fairchild. He got better every week. That's what these guys are doing. It's all we have as the backups now. We are getting them ready and they are coming along.
"They did okay in the game Saturday and they will do better every time they go out. They are learning and improving. They get better every day."
Herring said he was amazed to watch Freddie Fairchild on tape against Utah State after his injury.
"He tore his ACL and he went back in the game in the second quarter," Herring said. "Of course, we didn't know it was a torn ACL and he wanted to play.
"There was a play where he got cut, spun off the block, got cut again, and then limped on one leg and laid out with a dive into the pile. Amazing, just amazing. You watch that as a coach and it's something I'll never forget. It was a courageous play. His coaches and teammates will remember that play. This is what football is about. I'm proud of him. I appreciate him. I'm sorry he is not with us now. It's a blow to this team to not have him."
Herring said it appears Darius Vinnett, backup cornerback, might be able to play this week against Vanderbilt. He had surgery early in fall camp for a problem with a tendon in his shin.
"He's going to try to give us a few plays here and there, maybe a couple at a time," Herring said. "He might be able to play 15 in one half, maybe 15 in another half. We'll see.
"We'll be playing against a spread offense. He'll be in space and maybe it will be fine because of that. It's up to him as to how he feels. Right now, he's got confidence to try. We are glad to have him."
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