Hogs Ready for Spring Drills
Arkansas will begin the process of upgrading its pass protection when spring drills begin at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday at Walker Pavilion.
"It's going to be a crash course as far as finding out what our quarterbacks and wide receivers can do," said Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. "We'll start each day with a blitz period. We'll get in third-and-8 and tell Reggie (Herring, defensive coordinator) to bring it. We want to see what we can do and what we can't do. The emphasis will be on finding out what our quarterbacks can do as far as pass protection."
The Hogs will have two early workouts this week. After Tuesday's 5:30 a.m. start, they'll go even earlier on Wednesday with a 5 a.m. workout to get some work in before the team heads to academic duty on what is typically lab day on campus.
They'll have a continuation of their offseason conditioning drills at 5:30 a.m. Thursday bfore taking off for spring break.
They'll return to spring drills on Monday, March 26 and wrap things up with a scrimmage on Saturday, April 14.
"We have to get our quarterbacks and receivers on the same page," Nutt said. "We have to see if they can execute under pressure. We are going to get after them. We have to find out if they can do it in the fastest league in America.
"We know we can handle vanilla. We can hand it to Darren McFadden and Felix Jones and beat vanilla. What we want to see is what happens when folks come after us."
The Hogs will hit a few of their base running plays this spring, but only a few.
"We might run three or four of our run stuff, just the base, but we are going to spend most of the spring on pass protection," Nutt said. "We have an older quarterback. We want to see if our receivers are getting better. I know Marcus Monk is better. We want to get a good look of London Crawford, Marques Wade, Chris Baker, Andrew Norman, Reggie Fish ... those younger guys. I think they are getting better. I see signs that Chris Baker is coming to life.
"We are excited about our receivers. I like what I see of Rod Coleman and Carlton Salters, too. We've got some guys that we want to see what they can do."
Nutt said the young receivers have looked good in the early morning fifth quarter classes. He said Crawford, bothered by a sore knee early last year, has been the leader in all of the sprints.
"He looks healthy and is running very well," Nutt said. "He's made it through everything and with no problems with (the knee tendinitis)."
While the Hogs test the pass protection, several key players will not face full contact this spring. That would include star running backs Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis.
"What have those guys got to prove," Nutt said. "We won't hit them. Peyton Hillis is included in that. He's looking real good right now, but we aren't going to hit them."
The Hogs are replacing three starters in the offensive line, but Nutt likes the prospects there. Mitch Petrus, who helped at fullback and H-back last season, has moved to left guard where he's penciled in as the starter to replace graduated Stephen Parker as drills begin. He'll battle with Mike Aguirre there.
Jose Valdez and redshirt freshman Ray Domingues will battle at left tackle where Tony Ugoh finished eligibility. Nate Garner is ahead at right tackle with Cody Green (out last year with back troubles) as the backup where Zac Tubbs departed.
"We've got good competition at all of those spots," Nutt said. "It would be a big bonus if Cody Green and that big body can stay out there. He's been fine through all of the winter conditioning workouts so far. We are excited about that."
Andrew Davie is listed first at tight end ahead of Mason Templeton and Ben Cleveland. Cleveland is still bothered by a foot injury and may miss the first few days of spring drills.
Nutt lists the starters at split end as Monk, with Crawford, Wade and Baker as his backups. At flanker, Robert Johnson is first with Salters, Fish, Norman and Coleman in the next four slots.
Of course, Casey Dick will take the first-team snaps at quarterback, followed by Nathan Emert.
"Emert is better than you think," Nutt said of the Missouri Southern transfer who sat out last year while running the scout team. "He could get us out of a game right now. I think he's going to surprise some people. He'll get quite a bit of work behind Casey this spring."
Defensively, Nutt said several key players will sit out after offseason surgeries. Safety Michael Grant (knee), end Antwain Robinson (shoulder) and linebacker Freddie Fairchild (knee) are listed as first teamers, but won't go through contact.
Matt Hewitt has been moved from outside linebacker to strong safety where he's listed as the starter heading into spring. He'll battle with redshirt freshman Matt Harris, now up to 192, for the starting job there. Kevin Woods will take the first team snaps at free safety with Grant on the mend.
The only other position switch this spring will see Malcolm Sheppard moving from tackle to the starting spot at left end where Jamaal Anderson left to declare early for the NFL draft. Sheppard was the star in bowl workouts and played plenty against Wisconsin as the Hogs' used a five-man front.
There is good depth, but not much experience at outside linebacker. Fairchild has moved from strongside to Sam Olajubutu's old spot as the starter at weakside (or will) linebacker. Weston Dacus returns at middle linebacker. True sophomore Wendell Davis is the starter at strongside linebacker.
The Hogs are excited to see what redshirt freshman Ryan Powers, Adrian Davis and Chip Gregory can do at the three linebacker slots. All have outstanding athletic ability, but have not shown that they can stay healthy. Powers had hamstring problems. Gregory had to have shoulder surgery.
"Our number one goal is to get better fundamentally," Nutt said. "I've asked each position coach to prepare a written assessment of each player on where they are right now, and again after spring. I want to know how what they are trying to improve as far as fundamentals with each player and then see where we are after spring drills. That's our top priority, get every player better fundamentally."
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