After an off-season of highly-publicized turmoil, University of Arkansas head football coach Houston Nutt is obviously pleased to be focused on on-the-field matters once again.
Of course, if you had Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Peyton Hillis and Marcus Monk heading up your offense to go with a strong group of seniors, you'd likely have that same sentiment.
That's what Nutt, who does have the normal worries of a coach heading into the season, got across on Monday morning during the traditional UA Media Day attended by a horde of print and broadcast journalists.
"I am really proud of our seniors," Nutt said. "The ownership of this team they have taken of this team is just something to be very, very proud of.
"Marcus Monk, Marcus Harrison, Matteral Richardson, Weston Dacus, Robert Felton and then a lot of our juniors have stepped up as well," Nutt added. "Guys like Darren McFadden and Peyton Hillis…You love their attitude and how they are stepping up."
Arkansas is coming off a 2006 season in which it won the SEC Western Division Championship, 10 of its first 11 games, was in the top five nationally and then lost its last three games.
"They are hungry, very, very hungry," Nutt said. "Right now and this year these guys have just done everything we have asked of them. They have a positive attitude, a commitment – all the things that sound so simple. Each team has a different personality and I can't say enough about this one."
Obviously one of the biggest questions going into the season is how junior quarterback Casey Dick will perform.
"We are telling him first of all that you've got a great supporting cast and that you don't have to be superman every play," Nutt said. "You don't have to be a hero every play.
"What we are asking is to hand the ball off, to throw the ball when it is time, keep everything simple and when there is a play to be made – make it," Nutt added.
"I think you are going to see a different Casey Dick this year – a different, different quarterback because of two reasons," Nutt continued. "One he is older and he has got some games under his belt and the other thing is that David Lee will have him ready."
Speaking of Lee, the former Razorback and Dallas Cowboys assistant is taking over an offensive coordinator and Nutt likes what he sees.
"David Lee is one of the best teacher," Nutt said. "There is no doubt in my mind that he took Tony Romo all the way to the Pro Bowl. That excites some 18 and 19 year olds in recruiting and he has done a good job in that area.
"The knowledge that he got from Bill Parcells in the passing game – third down, the play-action package – that is where we need to get better and it gives us the best chance to win."
One of the reasons many felt like the Razorbacks faltered down the stretch last season was because Hillis was injured and unable to play.
"I've never seen a better attitude from him," Nutt said. "He has worked so hard. It was a frustrating injury last year, but I think he has done an outstanding job all winter in really working with (strength and conditioning) Coach (Don) Decker and his staff.
"I think the bottom line is that he realizes that he has a tremendous role- the same exact role he will be playing on Sundays," Nutt added. "That's H-back, fullback, maybe a little of one back. He is physical and he is something special."
McFadden will have his share of publicity, but Nutt thinks he will deal with it well.
"We touched on that at the very first meeting," Nutt said. "…He's the front-runner, we all know that after finishing second last year. We have told Darren just to continue to be Darren McFadden. You don't try and take the position that you have got to make an 80-yard run today because we are on TV today. Just make four yards and see what happens. Worry about taking care of your assignments, just worry about doing your job."
Arkansas got a lot of mileage last year out of the Wildcat Package, a series of plays designed for a direct snap to McFadden and one that will be expanded this season.
"We are trying to improve on that package, make it better," Nutt said. "Darren has a tremendous feel for it and so far, so good. We've got some new things for him and we have a lot of confidence in Felix Jones as the trigger man back there, too.
"They have the option of handing the ball off to each other, to Peyton Hillis and even a fourth guy like Michael Smith."
Nutt made it clear what could make this a fun season.
"Fun is spelled W-I-N," Nutt said. "That's all there is to it."
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