This was unlike any media day in the history of the University of Arkansas. First, it started out with lunch in the new Wilson Matthews "A" Club Lounge. So that made it special. It's a wonderful place.
But, it got interesting when Houston Nutt started the media gathering back in the team film room with a lenghthy statement about Ken Hamlin, Cedric Cobbs and the state of his football team.
After meeting with his seniors last night ... the first players he signed as head coach ... the Arkansas boss said he had determined that Hamlin should play in the first game. He said both he and his teammates are convinced that serving 10 days in jail has changed his attitude.
"I wrestled with this all summer," Nutt said. "When it first happened, I wanted to kick him off the team. Then, I went back and forth. It was one of the most difficult times I've had since I've been at Arkansas.
"As time went on, and after talking with his father and mother and watching how Ken Hamlin reacted to this, and knowing him the way I do, I started to change my thoughts. I did want to get rid of him, and I might have still suspended him until I talked to the seniors last night. I went into that meeting with some numbers in my mind, but they changed my thoughts."
Nutt said he'd heard all the talk about the length of the suspension. He knew what would have been said about a two-game suspension.
"They would have said, 'Yeah, coach, he got two games and he's back in time for Alabama,' " he said. "But, I'm not going to suspend him for any games. I'm not perfect, and I'm not perfect as a father. But, in my heart, I think this is right. The guys on our team think I'm doing the right thing.
"I do want to thank the judge. He could have gave him seven days in jail, but gave him 10. That may have been the difference. That's a long time to sit in that cold jail. He was in there with 14 other prisoners.
"I saw Kenny in the orange suit. I saw his face when he came out. I think he is a changed man."
As for Cobbs, Nutt said it is clear that the junior tailback has doen things right in the last few months since he was stopped for marijuana possession.
"I think you are going to hear this afternoon that the appeal is dropped," Nutt said. "Cedric has done everything we've asked of him, and had his best semester in school. He's done the long list of things we've given him, 15 conditions."
By Nutt's tone, it seemed that Cobbs would be able to play in the first game, if the appeal is dropped, as promised and there are no question marks about his availability for the coming season.
"I've encouraged Cedric for a long time to get this behind him," Nutt said. "He's always accepted to me that he did wrong and that told me what he did. He told me he had made a mistake and told me what he did. The family struggled because of what they said he did ... driving while under the influence. They didn't think he did that.
"As far as what to do with them, I wanted the opinion of the seniors. I talked to every one of them. The guys ... everyone of them ... told me that they paid his debt to society."
Nutt then delved into issues of the team, but there were actually few questions aside from the Hamlin and Cobbs scenarios. He did emphasize the good work his team has done in the class room and in the community because he felt that the Cobbs and Hamlin problems covered those bright spots with their negativity.
"I'm proud of this team and these seniors," Nutt said. "The guys look real good. I'm proud of the seniors. This is my first class. It's not big in numbers, but it's big in heart. Guys like Jermaine Brooks ... I remember that first year when a guy from California was trying to talk Gary Hobbs into staying when he was right down the road 45 miles. Jermaine said, 'Don't go home.' Raymond House is an awesome person. Nathan Ball is a great person. He's a guy that says, 'What position, coach?' That's why I'm excited to get started.
"Guys, there are a lot of questions you can ask, but it comes down to going with your heart and your gut and doing what's best for your team.
"My goal is to win games and graduate players. We have one of them back this week, Sacha Lancaster is donw with Arena Football and he's back with us helping our team. I see so much good. He was a young man that had some trouble. But, he's turned out great. I look at guys like Carlos Hall, C. J. McLain. They've turned out well. I had two or three problems at Murray, but those young men turned out great. I have to do what I think is right and trust my gut.
"I feel good about what we are doing. I look at guys like Josh Melton, Raymond House, Jermaine Brooks and Mark Bokermann ... they have their degrees. I think that's the legacy of Brandon Burlsworth. That's why I get disappointed when I hear about my wife in the grocery store and someone thinks he is a comedian and asks if we've got anyone else in prison. It's been a tough summer, but I'm excited about this team."
Nutt said he's excited about his newcomers. He likes what he sees in the new offensive linemen and the fast skilled players.
"We have our best group of linemen," he said. "We've got some great ones that walked on like Mitch Nuckolls and Jason Grimes. They go great with our other linemen. They all have mass and athleticism. They are what we have been playing against. This group of linemen is as good as we've signed.
"The skilled guys can run. They are outstanding. I'm pumped up. The only thing we are missing is Reginald Banks and Jonathan Barry, and as soon as the backlog of paperwork clears at the clearing house, they'll be here, maybe by Friday or Monday. But, they will be here."
Hamlin ended the media briefing by reading a short prepared statement. He said he hopes that others learned by his mistake of getting behind the wheel after drinking. He said he learned his lesson.
Dave Wommack, defensive coordinator, said the decision to play Hamlin means Bo Mosley would concentrate on rover.
"I told Bo he's a part-time starter at rover with Jimmy Beasley," Wommack said. "This clears up some of the confusion. We had talked about who to work at free safety among the freshman, but we don't have to worry about that now. Bo will stay at rover and that's what he's worked at during pass scale. We didn't really know during the four newcomers practice if we needed to start training someone at free safety. We didn't really do that, and that's worked itself out now."
Mosley said he was relieved.
"Free safety isn't a lot different than rover, but rover is probably better for me," he said. "I've been practicing at rover, and I was ready to learn free if I needed to do it. So, I'm glad it's settled."
J. Strain, the often injured tight end, has been cleared for full contact after going through pass scale drills all summer without any problems. His surgically repaired knee has been declared stronger than the other knee.
That means Nathan Ball will stay with the offensive line. Mike Markuson, line coach, isn't sure where he'll play Ball.
"He's the joker, the wild card," Markuson said. "Where he plays is unclear, but we know he can play and help us in SEC games. We asked him to take some snaps with the quarterbacks and work on the steps at guard. He did both this summer."
The decision on where to play Ball will be determined by successes or failures on the line during two-a-days.
"Someone said it's kind of like waiting to see who screws up," Markuson said, "and there's some truth to it. But, we know Nathan will be ready for whatever we ask from him. He's played a lot of games and he gives us flexibility. One of the big keys is J. Strain. If he stays healthy, we will have Nathan in the line, and won't need him back at tight end. Nathan is at 295 and looks awesome right now. I love him."
Markuson said it's too early to determine Tony Ugoh's ability to help this season.
"You don't know until you see him live in some pass drops ... can he backpeddle ... does he have the ability to cut off a speed rush," he said. "When I saw Shawn Andrews do that live last year then I knew he could play. That's the toughest part. You worry about the physical nature, too, but that ability to slide and drop into a set pass blocking is the hardest thing for a tackle."
Tarvaris Jackson (from left), Matt Jones and Ryan Sorahan pose for the media.
Tarvaris Jackson visits with broadcaster Mike Irwin.
Shawn Andrews reacts to a this reporter's plea for a smile.
Jermaine Brooks visits with reporter Scott Cain.
Photos by Clay Henry