On First Day, Hogs Face Uncertainty

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring can't seem to catch a break when it comes to his secondary.


At this time a year ago, Herring had concerns about his safeties. That problem eventually worked itself out, but now he has issues with his cornerbacks.
The only certainty is that senior Matterral Richardson will be one of Arkansas' starting cornerbacks. Finding a second cornerback to compliment him will be Herring's top priority when the Razorbacks open preseason practice at 3 p.m. today.
And at least early on, Herring said he hasn't ruled out the possibility of moving starting free safety Michael Grant back to cornerback if it means shoring up his secondary.
"I think we're going to have a close eye on the secondary to see how solid we are, especially at (cornerback)," Herring said. "We've got to go practice and dive into it to see if there are any moves that need to be made there (or) whether we have the right guys at corner.
"The bottom line is we don't know until we go practice."
Sophomore Jerell Norton enters the fall as the likely choice to fill the starting cornerback position that came open when Chris Houston left after his junior season for the NFL.
Norton, who spent last season mostly as a backup, looked impressive at times in the spring. But he also infuriated Herring with his inconsistent play, sometimes making an interception on one play and then getting beat by a wide receiver moments later.
If Norton can't secure the cornerback spot opposite Richardson over the next few weeks, then Herring will be faced with some decisions that he'd rather not have to make.
Juniors Jamar Love and Shedrick Johnson will get considerable looks. But a more likely option is for Grant to move from free safety to cornerback, the position he played during his first two seasons with the Razorbacks.
Herring referred to Grant as his "ace in the hole." But for the time being, Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said he's comfortable with where the senior is at.
"We'll start out with him at safety. I feel good about him there," Nutt said of Grant. "Reggie (Herring), (safeties coach) Chris (Vaughn) and (cornerbacks coach) Bobby (Allen) back there will take a good look at it during two-a-days and see who's our best 11 (players).
"But right now, we'd like to keep him at safety."
Grant, who is expected to make a full recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in a Nov. 4 win at South Carolina, was moved to safety last spring to add some stability to the position.
But Herring said he's willing to move Grant back to his original position -- assuming he can find someone else to fill the former track star's spot at free safety.
"You don't know how good the safeties are going to come on. If the safeties become thick and deep, then that enables you to move Grant over to (cornerback) and make the corner position better," Herring said.
"That all goes back to how are the corners going to respond and how are the safeties responding. (That will determine) whether Michael Grant stays at free safety or goes to corner.
"That's basically in a nutshell what we don't know."
With Houston and Richardson at cornerback last season, the Razorbacks were able to play plenty of man coverage and shut down some of the nation's top wide receivers.
Herring, though, scoffed at the notion that the uncertainty at cornerback might require him to go with more zone coverages this season. Arkansas doesn't have just one type of coverage package, Herring insisted.
"You can't go into any season or anywhere with any package and say, 'This is what we're going to run regardless,'" Herring said. "You've got to evaluate your players and you've got to evaluate who you're playing."
He has less than a month to do just that.
Arkansas' Schedule For the Next Few Days|
3 p.m. today -- First preseason practice (Open to the public)
Sunday -- Dayoff
8 a.m. Monday -- Media Day at the Broyles Center (Closed to the public)

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