Wednesday Grid Update, 3/14

Arkansas finished its second day in shorts as spring practice was again for the early birds.

Arkansas put spring practice number two in the books early Wednesday, working from 5 a.m. until 7 a.m., with more good stuff in the passing game drawing good marks from coaches.

"More progress," offensive coordinator David Lee said afterwards. "It was a good day. We are getting better."

Head coach Houston Nutt was "very pleased" with the work from quarterback Casey Dick after the second day of spring drills. Nutt said Dick threw the ball on time and was accurate Wednesday from start to finish.

"The quarterback really looked good today," Nutt said. "I liked the way he got the ball off. He was one thousand one, one thousand two, then zip. That's what David Lee brought to us, getting the ball off and to the right place. The blitz was coming today, but we had the ball off. I liked it.

"Our protection is already better. We turned two loose yesterday and two loose today. But we had the right guys on the right people. You get pads on and it's easier to protect. Protection improves with pads. But we had the right people on them the last two days. It's been very good. I think we are much better."

Nutt also had praise for the wide receivers. He said he sees a big difference in quickness in senior Marcus Monk.

"Monk had a great winter," Nutt said. "He's much, much quicker. He lost some weight. What you see now is that when he catches the ball, he's very dangerous with the ball. He can get away from you now.

"I like what I see from our young ones, too. Andrew Norman is coming. He can play a role for this team. He made some catches today. He's had two good days. He's stronger.

"You can also see the ability from London Crawford, Marques Wade and Carlton Salters. Rod Coleman is making some plays, too. Crawford was limping late in practice. I talked to him and he went full speed after that. He's got to stay on the field."

However, the bell cow in Lee's new passing game appears to be Peyton Hillis. Nutt said Hillis is a few pounds heavier, but still quick and fast.

"He's right at 240 now, with a little more muscle, but his flexibility is good and he is really fast, too," Nutt said. "He's making a lot of catches, a lot of plays. You knew how much we missed him those last few games last year. I've told him a lot the last two days to stay healthy. He's so important to us and we need to have him on the field."

Lee had Hillis moving to different spots as a flanker and wingback, often in motion. Dick seem to find him in quick fashion in the flats and across the middle. He busted two blitzs with strikes to Hillis for big plays. Dick also beat the Hogs' two-deep zone with a bomb to an open Robert Johnson.

If there was a downside to the offensive sharpness, it was on the other side of the ball where defensive coordinator Reggie Herring knows he's got some big holes to fill after losing key starters Jamaal Anderson, Chris Houston, Sam Olajubutu and Keith Jackson.

"We've got a long ways to go and we are a work in progress," Herring said. "The offense has their starting quarterback returning and a lot of weapons. They've held the upper hand these first two days. They have the composure, the stature. We don't. We are feeling our way along.

"It's going to take time for us on defense. We have young linebackers. It's a chineese fire drill over there right now. We are having to learn how to just get lined up. We are thin at cornerback. We've got some catching up to do with the offense."

Herring hinted that the offense might have to protect the defense during the learning curve early next season.

"We'll get there (on defense), but we might not be there starting out," he said. "We've got some ability. But we are having to rely on some redshirt freshmen. Guys like Chip Gregory and Ryan Powers haven't played. Gregory has had two practices, that's it. Powers played two games on special teams. They've been here, but just standing around waiting for the band to play. We'll get them ready."

Freddie Fairchild was slated to move from strongside to will linebacker to fill Olajubutu's spot, but he's been returned to strongside.

"He's still limping a little from the knee (surgery)," Herring said. "So we left him at strongside. We thought about that over the winter and decided sam (strongside) was best for him. So we are training the young ones at will.

"The only experienced backer right now is Weston Dacus. Everything else is a question mark."

There are some good signs on defense. Malcolm Sheppard looks solid at defensive end in place of Anderson and Michael Grant is making a fast recovery from ACL surgery, much faster than Fairchild.

"To be honest, Sheppard plays the run better than Jamaal," Herring said. "He was better at the run in our bowl practices than Jamaal. We just have to get Malcolm up to what Jamaal was in the pass rush. That's what we miss there."

Grant has practiced well at first team free safety, but he'll head to the sidelines when the Hogs don full pads on Monday, March 26 when spring drills resume after spring break.

"We are proud of Grant," Herring said. "It's a mystery how he can be so far along after just three months. He looks pretty good."

Safeties coach Chris Vaughn said Grant seems to have all of his straight ahead speed back.

"When he has to do change of direction moves he might not be full speed, but he looks fast to me just going straight," Vaughn said. "We are going to watch him carefully to make sure not to put too much on him. We want him in August, not now. We'll get him off the field in all contact situations. But we are getting some valuable work with him in other situations."

Vaughn said the return to strong safety for Matt Hewitt has gone well.

"It's nice to have that big body back there at safety," Vaughn said. "We haven't had that for a bit. He is sliding back into safety pretty well. We are still working on his movement in space. That's what he needs to improve."

The Hogs will return to Walker Pavilion at 5:30 a.m. Thursday, but it will be for offseason conditioning and will not count against their 15 days of spring drills.

"I've been proud of the enthusiasm and attitude from the guys the first two days," Nutt said. "I think the guys were glad to get out of the stations and running and to playing football. We've got one more days of conditioning, then they'll get a week off. I am going to talk hard to them about getting some jogging in to keep their legs strong. They've worked hard all winter and we don't want to lose something in this next week."

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