Pass protection and execution against the blitz was the order of the day Tuesday as Arkansas began spring drills with an early-morning workout in Walker Pavilion.
Arkansas began spring drills with a 5:30 a.m. workout -- 5:20 a.m. if you count stretching -- as the start of the 15 days allowed by the NCAA. The first two days are required to be in shorts and helmets (with no pads) so head coach Houston Nutt is getting those out of the way this week before the team takes spring break off next week. Practice number two will be at 5 a.m. Wednesday. The Hogs will put on pads on Monday, March 26, for their third workout.
The first period of the team segment of the workout dealt with third-and-8 plays all against blitzes. New offensive coordinator David Lee said it was important to work against the blitz early and often this spring and said he didn't care if the offense got skunked early on. But that didn't happen.
"It went pretty good," head coach Houston Nutt said. "We went 12 plays in the third-and-8 period and we hit probably better than half of them. I thought they did very well."
Lee said the Hogs had little carry over from last year with the new passing game protections and scheme he brought from the Dallas Cowboys. He said with that in mind, it was a good start.
"I thought they did well," said Lee, also the UA quarterback coach. "I was pleased with the quarterbacks and also with the protection against the blitz. I don't think we turned anyone loose."
Lee said first team QB Casey Dick had a solid start, but slipped as the morning went along.
"Casey started off sharp, but then his ball started to sail on him as we've seen him do in the past," Lee said. "He was letting the ball come out of his hand early and it was sailing. We've got to get back to some fundamentals and stay on him on that."
Lee had several props to help the quarterbacks accomplish improved fundamentals. He had three 7-foot step ladders with green jerseys stuck on top. He lined them up in a row to make his quarterbacks throw over them.
"It's to simulate and SEC pass rush," Lee said. "When you have 6-foot-1 quarterbacks, you better be able to get it over the rush. So we gave them that to work on to get it up and over. We've done that in the past at other places, but not here. Matt Jones was 6-6. He didn't need that. Quinn Grovey was running the option. But we have used it other places before. It's not new."
Lee said he saw good things from several receivers.
"I thought Peyton Hillis had a good morning," Lee said. "He did some good things catching the ball."
Overall, Lee thought the Hogs slipped as the morning went along. He didn't like the way the offense faltered in the last period of the day, the two-minute drill.
"We were in four wide sets and the defense brought blitzes and pressure," Lee said. "We probably didn't do a good job there, but we will be ready for that in the morning. Things are going to move pretty fast. Today was a heavy set of installation and we've got more to install Wednesday morning. It's a short turnaround to 5 a.m. in the morning so we better get after it (in meetings) this afternoon."
As far as the blitz package early in the workout, Lee was more pleased and gave his unit "a B grade. I liked what we did there. If we can handle the blitz, everything after that is gravy. I thought that was good. Casey missed the swing screen, though, and that was probably the only disapppointment.
"It's all new, though. There is hardly any carryover. So give these guys credit. We gave them a lot and they studied up and did a good job. I thought Marcus Monk did OK, so did London Crawford and Chris Baker caught one in blitz. It was a good start."
Nutt was pleased. He called it a "good first practice."
"It was so good to be out here early," he said. "Our guys had a great attitude and came with a lot of enthusiasm.
"The third-and-8 package was good. Casey Dick, Marcus Monk, London Crawford and our offensive line showed good execution."
Defensively, Nutt praised Weston Dacus, Wendell Davis, Marcus Harrison and Matterral Richardson for solid work.
Nutt said he was excited to see rehabbing starters Freddie Fairchild (will linebacker) and Michael Grant (free safety) take the bulk of the snaps with the first team in the no-contact workout.
"They got a lot and I even went over to (trainer) Dean Weber to make sure they weren't doing too much," Nutt said. "We'll hold them out of all of the contact. But they are getting a lot of fundamentals and they look good. They are further along than you expected.
"Still, the most exciting thing was the way we handled the blitz. We completed some passes and quite a few. That was outstanding."
Tuesday Grid Update, 3/13
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