Arkansas opened football practice with plenty of enthusiasm on a hot afternoon in the Ozarks. Head coach Houston Nutt called it "a fun, fun afternoon."
Among the highlights was the punting of junior Jeremy Davis. The Fort Smith product boomed 8-10 towering spirals that Nutt said were in the "50 to 60-yard range with plenty of hang time." Nutt said it was easily the best he'd seen of Davis during his UA career.
"Jeremy told us he was going to be a different player than we remembered," Nutt said. "I believed him, but he was really good today. I had not seen him punt like that before. He really hit them today. He said that's what he's done all summer."
There were around 250 fans along the sidelines for the practice and they broke into applause after three or four of the rockets Davis launched towards Walker Pavilion.
"It's nice to hear something like that," Davis said afterwards. "That gives you some confidence. It gets you going. I had some adrenalin today."
Davis took turns with true freshman Alex Tejada at the end of the day in a field goal session. Each hit nice kicks from the 37 to 42-yard range, but each missed. Both made kicks after low snaps.
"I was proud of Jeremy, Alex and our deep snapper (freshman Rhett Richardson) because they did a great job," Nutt said. "Jeremy was booming those punts. He's come back with a lot of confidence kicking and on placements. The question now is whether he does both or whether someone else does the placements."
Davis said he spent time with both Ken Turner and Bruce Lahay over the summer and both helped his punting and placement work. Turner is a former UA assistant with expertise in the kicking game. Lahah was an All-America punter for the Hogs.
"Coach Turner showed me some things and Bruce Lahay helped me a lot with my punting," Davis said. "The kicking and punting motion are different and you have to be careful that one doesn't effect the other. One is a motion across your body and the other is just the opposite. But I've had a good summer. I've hit the ball good this summer. I've charted 20 punts and charted 20 placekicks every day this summer. I've tried not to wear out my leg. I feel good about where I'm at right now."
Nutt said he was pleased that fans braved the 90-degree heat. He said his players handled it well, too.
"We haven't had a lot of heat this summer, but two or three weeks ago we told our players to get ready because it would get here in time for practice and it really did," Nutt said. "Our players showed great enthusiasm. Are we there yet? No, but it was a great first day."
Nutt said the coaches wanted a hard look at the Wildcat Package with Darren McFadden at quarterback since that was kept under wraps for most of the spring.
"We are trying to get our execution down," Nutt said. "We kept the ball off the ground and that was good."
As far as the passing game, Nutt said quarterback Casey Dick started off well but slipped as the day went on. Nutt said, "I think he'd tell you he could do better. But he's still so far ahead of where he was at this time last year. He knows more and he's healthy. He'll do better."
Quarterback coach David Lee liked what he saw of his three newcomers -- Nathan Dick, Joe Chaisson and Brian Reader. Reader is a walkon from California.
"We saw good things of Brian when he came in this summer with his DVD," Lee said. "After what we saw, we wanted him here today. He did some good things. I really liked his throwing motion. Of the three (freshman), Nathan and Brian had the better day. Casey missed some open receivers. Nathan threw a couple of picks. Both will have better days."
Reader said he was trying to get used to the "high humidity" of the Ozarks.
"I've met a lot of new friends and I'm trying to get used to the air," he said. "It's a lot drier than this in California. But I had fun today. I need to learn a lot, but I thought I did okay for a first day."
Nutt loved what he saw of his freshmen. He especially liked the depth the Hogs have added to both the offensive and defensive lines.
"You look out there and see Kareem Crowell, Wade Grayson, Grant Cook, Grant Freeman and Seth Oxner on offense and then on defense with Brandon Lampkin, Patrick Jones, Damario Ambrose and Jake Bequette on defense and we have some more bodies now," Nutt said. "It's a shock for them to see how fast we go. We told them and told them that it's a quicker pace. It's such a different game than they are accustomed to."
Nutt was pleased with the way Marcus Harrison, Michael Grant and Freddie Fairchild handled the first day. All three are coming off ACL surgery.
"Obviously, they didn't get everything, but they did well," Nutt said. "They had a good day."
Nutt praised wide receiver Robert Johnson. The senior from Waco, Texas made several spectacular catches over the middle. Nutt called it his best day as a wideout.
"I think it was," Johnson said. "I'm quicker and faster than I was last spring. I've worked hard on dropping pounds this summer. I caught a few over the middle today and I'm proud of that. But the most important thing, I had fun. It was a great day out there. We all had a good time."
The coach with the biggest smile afterwards might have been new running backs coach Tim Horton. The former Razorback was moving at high speed from start to finish.
"He's got some military school in him," laughed Felix Jones, junior tailback. "That's good. We want to learn all that he can give us. He introduced himself to us and we are glad to have him. He gets after us and we don't mind."
Horton said, "I've got great players and they are ready for anything new I can give them. I probably have a few blocking drills they haven't seen, but they adapted to them right away and they are eager learners. It was great to be out there."
Did he bring any of the things to the practice field that he learned about the triple option to be incorporated into the Wildcat Package.
"I will say that what they are doing in the Wildcat is very familiar to me," Horton said. "Really, I understand all of the offensive concepts we are using and that includes the Wildcat. I think there are some things that I can help with in the Wildcat with our backs. I think I can show them some new wrinkles, but we haven't seen them against live bullets yet.
"What I can tell you after one day is that these backs are very coachable. They are receptive to new ideas. I think I can be safe in saying this team has a chance to win a few games."
The Hogs will take the field for their second workout of the fall at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The Hogs will workout on Monday at around 6 p.m. Two-a-days begin on Saturday.
David Lee gives instruction to Darren McFadden at Saturday's opening Arkansas workout.
Brian Reader (4), Nathan Dick (10) and Joe Chaisson (14) go through drills during Saturday's workout.
Houston Nutt works on punt returns with Peyton Hillis.
Photos by Marc F. Henning
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