Spring Marks A Time Of Change (And Injuries)

FAYETTEVILLE — For the second consecutive spring, Arkansas' players had to adjust to a new offensive coordinator and more drastic changes to the playbook

At the same time, they had to deal with more yelling from Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring, who had reason to be on the edge this spring. He had to find replacements for at least five defensive starters, and the group he had to choose from consisted mostly of unproven backups and newcomers. A rash of injuries didn't help, either. "The bottom line is we'll know what we've got defensively when we play Troy State next fall (in the season opener)," Herring said following Saturday's Red-White spring game. And with that, the Razorbacks ended another round of spring practices. Some progress was made, particularly on offense, but it will be another few months before anyone knows just how much more work the Razorbacks must do in the fall. Only so much can get accomplished in 15 spring practices, especially when Arkansas' offense is implementing a new passing game and the defense is having a hard enough time simply staying healthy. "It's tough when you get somebody hurt. You don't want to get anybody hurt, but I love how far we've come," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "And I love the improvement with the young people." Arkansas offensive coordinator David Lee used the spring to get a new playbook introduced. But it was apparent early on that quarterback Casey Dick and the rest of the offense had a hard time getting a grasp on the changes that Lee made to the passing game. "It's like chemistry or Spanish, the first year it's different. Things are coming at you fast," Nutt said. "Now, the thing has slowed down for the quarterbacks (and) that's key." A year ago, former Springdale High coach Gus Malzahn tried to revive Arkansas' passing game. It's Lee's turn now, and judging by the past month, his offense is a work in progress. In the team's first scrimmage, the offensive line had a hard time adjusting to the new blocking schemes and Dick had trouble processing all the new information. But things got better as the spring progressed. Nutt said that was apparent over the last seven practices as the offense converted more third downs. "There is no question, you go out there day after day and you run the same stuff, you're going to get more confident with it," Dick said. "And toward the end (of the spring), we were confident." Lee was particularly curious to see how Dick would adjust to all the changes, and for good reason. There is no longer a controversy as to which Arkansas quarterback will be the starter in the fall. It's Dick. "I think Casey's strength is in his arm. He's got a live arm, there is no question about it," Lee said. "He started (the spring) out good, and the more the (offensive) installs came, the processing of the information at the line of scrimmage got confusing to him. "Out here, the last two or three practices, (things) started to clear up, which is really encouraging to me. I've got to believe in 29 practices (in the fall), we can get him ready to go." Herring, meanwhile, had a more difficult time seeing progress in his defense. He was just glad for practices to come to an end. Entering the spring, Arkansas' defense was already shorthanded because of injuries. The numbers only got smaller as the practices wore on. Starting defensive tackle Marcus Harrison tore an anterior cruciate ligament in the first week of spring practices. Starting middle linebacker Weston Dacus was sidelined after getting a concussion, and backup linebacker Matt Stoltz tore his ACL on one of the final practices of the spring. By the time the Red-White spring game arrived, Herring had no choice but to play several backups and walk-ons, many of whom will never see the field next season. For that reason, Herring was just ready for the Red-White game to put an end to a personally rough spring. "I don't think (the scrimmage) really said much of anything except that we're done (for the spring), and that we need to have a great summer and get ready and go to work," Herring said. Those words perhaps sum up his spring best.

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