Saturday Grid Update, 3/31

A day after earning praise, the offense struggled to protect the quarterback in the first major scrimmage of the spring.

David Lee warned us on Tuesday what Saturday would be like. The new offensive coordinator for the Arkansas football team can at least say he called it.

Lee's new offense couldn't protect quarterback Casey Dick and the results were predictably bad for the junior signal caller.

"The defense got after us," head coach Houston Nutt said. "You can't have the number of mental mistakes we had today. The defense came out in a whole lot better mind set than the offense.

"Freddy Bledsoe, Malcolm Sheppard and Ernest Mitchell were in the backfield all day long. The offense was disappointing. We are better than that."

Lee didn't expect it to be much better. He told reporters on Tuesday to expect a tough day in the first scrimmage because of the amount of new plays and blocking protections for the passing game that were being installed in the first week of spring drills.

"I told you guys that and I am glad you remember," Lee said. "My wife told me last night she was coming out to watch and the last thing I told her is that it was going to be ugly.

"What you saw today is what I expected. I'm to blame. It's an entirely new playbook. We are going to have another install on Monday and then it should get better after that. I think by next Saturday we should have things cleaned up.

"There are some things we didn't do today that would have helped. We didn't have (Darren McFadden and Felix Jones) back there for our play-action fakes. That holds the linebackers. You can freeze people with them back there. Today that wasn't happening. I had a feeling it was going to look like that.

"But the main problem is that we have three new guys in the offensive line. They are thinking right now instead of playing. You put in three new guys and it takes a little time. We'll get better with the protections."

It didn't help that the wideouts got crossed up on some crossing patterns and pick plays against the man-to-man defense the Hogs deployed in the secondary. Three times wideouts ran into each other when they were bumped at the line of scrimmage by tight coverage from the cornerbacks.

"We had some problems with friendly fire," Lee said. "They about killed each other a couple of times on those routes. We'll get better."

However, the wideouts did make some plays. Marcus Monk and Robert Johnson both had nice catches and London Crawford made a long run on a reverse.

"The wide receivers have been the best thing in spring camp so far," Nutt said. "Marques Wade, London Crawford, Carlton Salters, Andrew Norman and of course Marcus Monk leading them -- our wideouts have made nice plays and are doing a nice job. Today there just wasn't much protection."

As Nutt was discussing protection, Walker Pavilion was ringing from the yelling of line coach Mike Markuson giving his troops some post-practice exercise.

"You can see that Coach Markuson has some extra stuff for his guys," Nutt said. "We just didn't do a good job in protection. It's hard to say how Casey Dick did because if you don't have time, you can't evaluate what he could do. We'll get better.

"You knew there is a lot new with what we are doing, but I don't ever think we are going to look that badly. Give the defense credit, but what the offense did was not acceptable."

Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring wasn't ready to issue much praise. He knows the offense didn't have its main weapons (McFadden and Jones) and did not spend much effort on running the ball, its strength.

"Don't get too carried away with any of that today," Herring said. "It's early. They are working on some things. They didn't try to run it and our guys know that."

In other words, mostly the defensive line pinned its ears back and went after the quarterback.

"I don't know how we did until I see the film and see how many missed assignments we had," Herring said. "I know we had some penalties that kept drives alive. I know we didn't always carry out our assignments. I want to see if they played hard on every snap. The film will tell and I don't want to say too much about anyone until I see the film.

"We are done with one week. Please don't make any of these guys super stars just yet."

There was one defensive linemen drawing special praise. Sheppard, the first teamer at left end, continues to impress. He was the star of bowl practices, earning playing time against Wisconsin, and has picked up where he left off in Orlando.

"The players nicknamed Sheppard 'The Wood' because he brings it every single day," Herring said. "He's earned that nickname. He's deserving of being called 'The Wood.' He's a freshman, but he plays and practices like a fifth-year senior. I've never seen a freshman with that kind of maturity. He comes out swinging every snap. He is very quiet. There is no lip service. He doesn't say a word. He just listens. He tries to see what you say and then he does it. He is a coaches' dream."

Herring was careful not to praise Bledsoe. The senior from Little Rock dominated senior offensive guard Robert Felton when they were matched several times during the scrimmage. The only player to neutralize Bledsoe even for a few plays was freshman DeMarcus Love, but even he was beaten some by Bledsoe.

"Freddy is making strides to help this football team," Herring said. "He has the ability. But he's not the starter yet. Marcus Harrison is the starter right now, even though he's not out here. We are hoping he'll be back by the first game.

"Fred has done alright so far this spring, but he still has some things to prove. He's got to do more than give us three plays for us to forget the last three years. His M.O. is that he gives you two good plays and then shuts it down. You sportswriters are too busy writing about Goldilocks. Don't write too much about Fred just yet.

"What I'll say is this is a start. It's up to him if he does put more with it. He's got a long ways to go. He has to prove himself to us and this team. You don't show up three days and wipe out three years of bad habits."

Bledsoe understands all of that. He knows he's got plenty of work to do before he hears his name mentioned with those giving high effort every snap.

"I'm doing better," he said. "I know that. I also know I have as much talent as anyone out here. I've got my head right and I have to keep it that way. I have to keep giving it my all for every snap. I know it's now or never."

So what turned on the switch? Was it the pile of money that awaits probably first-round NFL pick Jamaal Anderson?

"That's it," Bledsoe said. "There isn't a day that has gone by the last couple of months that I haven't talked to Jamaal Anderson. Me and Jamaal are great friends. He told me, 'It's out there for you, Fred. Go get it. You just have to learn to practice hard because the games will be easy for you then.'

"I know about my past. I've been lazy. That's what everyone knows about me. Lately, though, I've played every play. I'm going to do it.

"I'm on the same page with (Coach Tracy Rocker) now. In the past, I didn't listen. I do now. I take in everything and try to show him I can do it. I know I have the ability."

Some have speculated that Bledsoe has blossomed after dropping some weight in the winter conditioning program.

"No, sir," Bledsoe said. "I'm 312. Actually, I think I'm a few pounds heavier. I am in better shape, but it's mainly just going out there and fighting through every play. I'm stronger and in better shape. But this is all in the mind. It's just making sure you don't take a play off."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories