Arkansas worked for two hours in full pads with the defense winning the majority of the battles on the cloudy, breezy Thursday afternoon.
"We put in two new pass protections today and we still have a lot of work to do with them," said Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. "It wasn't one of Casey Dick's best days, but we have to do a better job with those protections. We've got one more day of installation and then we'll work on polishing and getting them better.
"The defense really flew around today and held the upper hand. But we put the ball down in third-and-8s, and third-and-10s for the most part and that puts the offense in a difficult situation. It was a good workout and a good challenge for the offense."
Nutt did praise fullback/H-back Ben Cleveland for some solid catches in those third-down situations. He said Cleveland had a solid day both catching and blocking.
"He's getting better," Nutt said. "He's kinda of an in between guy as far as his size and that's why we moved him. But he made some big plays today and he contributed some nice blocks, too."
Nutt had plenty of praise for the defense. He said safety Matt Hewitt is stringing together a series of fine practices. He also had praise for tackle Fred Bledsoe, ends Chris Wade and Malcolm Sheppard and the cornerback group of Matterral Richardson, Jerrell Norton, Shedrick Johnson and Jamar Love.
"All of the corners had a good day," Nutt said. "We needed that after losing some guys there."
Bledsoe has put together a series of good workouts, too. However, coaches seem reluctant to heap too much praise on the big defensive tackle.
"Cautiously optimistic," Nutt replied to questions about Bledsoe's solid play. "That's the best way to put it. Is he teasing us? We don't know. We have to wait and see on him. He's looked good, but he has to keep doing it."
Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker would only say Bledsoe's status is "day to day." Asked to clarify that, Rocker said, "I'll keep saying it. It's day to day with Fred. Can he keeping doing it. He had a good winter, a good offeseason. For the first time, he didn't quit. He kept going. I want to see if he keeps going. What I can tell you so far is that he is trying. If he'll try, he can be a player. But so far he's day to day and that's all I can tell you."
Nutt said, "Just say, knock on wood, he's doing what we want him to do so far. He has a beautiful body. He's what we play against. What I will tell you is that every so often he puts together two or three plays that are great. Then you can't find him for two plays. We have to see if he keeps putting them together. He's done it for four or five practices now. But you are afraid to brag on him."
Reggie Herring likes what he sees from Bledsoe, too. He's hoping he zooms into the picture like Ernest Mitchell did midway through last season at defensive tackle.
"We need someone to do that again at defensive tackle," said Herring, the defensive coordinator. "We need some miracles. We need some big stories. I think we will get some from this bunch. Where they'll come from, we won't know for awhile. But we are hopeful in some areas."
They might come from weakside linebacker Ryan Powers and left cornerback Jerrell Norton, a pair of freshmen who have big-time ability.
"You see both of them make big plays," Herring said. "They have that kind of ability. But they don't always play consistent. When they become consistent, then we may have something. They have to do it out there on that field play after play, day after day. How long will it take them to get consistent? I don't know. But if they take a play off, they can give up a big play. Right now, they aren't consistent."
Norton intercepted two passes. He said he felt he's had two solid practices this week, but agrees that he needs more consistency.
"I just want to continue to improve," Norton said. "I know we lost Chris Houston at left corner and he was a great player. Hopefully, I can step up and fill that spot. I feel good now. My ankle is healthy. I'm learning defense. I'm just trying to please the coaches and make plays."
The Hogs will take off some of their pads Friday to polish ahead of a planned scrimmage for Saturday. The scrimmage on Saturday will begin around 11:15 a.m. The workout should begin around 10:30 a.m. on the practice field before the team heads to the stadium.
"I don't know how much scrimmage time we'll get, true scrimmage anyway," Herring said. "We are low in numbers at defensive tackle. We've moved some walkon linebackers to defensive tackles to get through a workout right now. So I don't know how many plays we can actually go."
Thursday Grid Update, 3/29
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