Petrino Previews Spring

Spring drills are close and new coach Bobby Petrino can't wait. He said the hitting will be heavy and fast.

Bobby Petrino doesn't know how many to expect for Thursday's first spring football practice, but he hopes a large crowd generates some excitement with the Arkansas football team.

"I've always liked it," Petrino said Monday when he met with the media to preview his first spring with the Hogs. "It generates enthusiasmj to have (practices open). It should help us with our focus and our concentration (to have a large crowd).

"As far as I'm concerned, I would prefer that we not have anything closed. We would, except for the Internet. You can't have some things open because of the Internet. Some things will just have to be closed."

Petrino cautioned fans to check the weather report before counting on seeing each spring practice. He said if there are rainy conditions, practices may have to be moved inside Walker Pavilion.

"If that happens, there just isn't enough room for everyone," he said. "We'll have some coaches and some scouts and there just isn't enough space for everyone."

Petrino said there was a handful of players who will not practice this spring because of injuries. Linebacker Wendell Davis (knee), defensive tackle Marcus Shavers (shoulder), safety Walner Leandre (shoulder), defensive tackle Ernest Mitchell and offensive lineman Jim Hart (back surgery) will all sit out of drills. Davis, Leandre and Mitchell are doing well after winter surgeries. All three should be back in the fall.

Petrino said the Hogs will hit often and long this spring. He said the only restriction will be that quarterbacks will not be tackled or hit.

"A couple of the coaches on our staff don't like that, but I've never had that where we hit quarterbacks," he said. "I just think it's too risky."

But the hitting elsewhere will be plentiful.

"If there is one thing that will be different from the way it was, that's it," Petrino said. "From what they tell me, we will hit more than they have here.

"We need to hit. We will hit and have live tackling every day we are allowed. Hitting needs to be like tying your shoe. You have to get used to doing it and then you won't have injuries.

"We need to find out about ourselves. We will be very physical and have lots of repetitions, lots of live repetitions.

"We will have three real scrimmages, one of them being the spring game. And, there will be a couple more that will be half practice and half scrimmage. We need to find out about a lot of positions, one of them being running back."

Asked if there was a position of "intrigue" heading into spring drills, Petrino nodded in the affirmative.

"Running back is one of them," he said. "We lost a lot of great running backs. We went back and pulled all of the tape on the ones we have and checked them. We will look hard at them this spring and then may add to that with some rookies in the fall."

During winter workouts, Petrino tried to shore up that area by moving Chip Gregory from defense to running back. Gregory came to Arkansas as a safety/linebacker, but he also played running back in high school.

"We liked his size and strength," Petrino said of the 6-3, 218-pound sophomore. "One of our priorities is to find a big back. I think the game changes in the fourth quarter when you have a big back."

Another area of intrigue is at linebacker where the Hogs are thin with Davis out in the middle and returning starter Freddie Fairchild suspended indefinitely. Petrino confirmed that Fairchild will not participate in any football activities. No decision will be made on his return until after his legal situation is done.

Petrino labeled Elston Forte as one of the leaders in offseason workouts and mentioned improvement he'd made in speed and strength in the weight room.

"I've been real impressed with Forte's leadership," Petrino said. "He's stronger and faster. I hope he can bring Ryan Powers and Jerry Franklin along at the linebacker spots. Powers is impressive as far as speed and quickness. Those three will start out with the first team. We'll also see what Freddy Burton, Jermaine Love and Aaron Fenton can do there at linebacker."

Petrino said the Hogs also want to see about junior squadman Robert Salinas can do at linebacker. He'll be tried there after spending last year on the scout team at fullback. He's a transfer from Wabash College out of La Joya, Texas.

"In checking his high school numbers, he was a sack leader down in Texas," Petrino said. "So that's another one we moved after he was at fullback last year."

There is little experience at receiver. Crosby Tuck has been impressive in workouts the last "five or six weeks" after a slow start in January after breaking his arm during the season. Tight end Ben Cleveland is still battling problems after neck and shoulder injuries sidelined him last year.

"He's not as healthy as we'd like him to be," Petrino said of Cleveland. "He is still trying to work through it. In our conditioning drills, when we'd go four days, he goes two. He's gotten better. He is going to see if he can push through things in the spring.

"Tuck, his arm is recovered. He's work hard. The last five or six weeks, he's made a lot of strides."

Among the redshirt freshmen, Petrino said defensive end Jake Bequette has impressed with "hard work, speed and agility." Asked about offensive linemen Kareem Crowell, Petrino said, "We signed him out of high school and know some about him. He's done a pretty good job. He's done pretty well, but he's got to get his weight (333) down. He'll be in our depth up front."

Speaking up front, Petrino said offensive and defensive line depth and ability is one of the team's strengths.

"I probably know more about the offensive line as any position," he said. "That will be a team strength. That's a good thing. I watched the offensive line probably more than any position during bowl practices. I liked the change of direction in the offensvie line and I liked the size. That encourages me. We'll need that. I'd be more worried if we didn't have that depth in the offensive and defensive line."

Petrino praised the work and ability of All-America senior center Jonathan Luigs, the nation's top player at his spot last year as the Remington winner.

"He's been a leader," Petrino said. "I love (offensive guard Mitch) Petrus, too. He's a tough guy. He's been a leader, too. Forte has been a leader on defense and we've some of that from (Adrian) Davis on defense, too. He's done it mainly by example and we need more out of him, a guy with his ability."

The defensive line is depleted with injuries, but Petrino likes what he's seen from Patrick Jones and also mentioned Malcolm Sheppard and Van Stumon as those who will compete for spots on the inside of the defensive line. He said Antwain Robinson has ability and has been "working hard, quietly doing things the right way. He is talented and needs to keep doing what he's doing right now."

As far as quarterback, Petrino said Casey Dick would start out at number one, but others would get a chance with the first unit, too. He said it's interesting to watch two brothers compete in reference to Nathan Dick's presence. He also said he wanted to see the accuracy and strength of Alex Mortensen.

"Alex has shown that he's going to know it," he said. "He wants to coach and he spends a lot of time in the film room."

As far as transfer Ryan Mallett, Petrino said there was no news on an appeal for eligibility to the NCAA.

"We don't have anything yet," Petrino said. "We will have to be conscious that he may not be there (in the fall as far as eligibility). He'll get some work, but it will be with the second team."

Asked about receiver play, Petrino said lack of experience was a concern.

"We are anxious to see them," he said. "They are unproven. They do not have much game experience. We want to see who will step up. But we've been through this before and I think you will be surprised how well a couple might do.

"We are anxious to see the safeties and corners, too. We lost all of the starters back there. And, we have a learning curve with a new defensive system with a lot of zone. We won't play man with a safety free like they did here.

"I have a lot of respect for (defensive coordinator) Willy Robinson and for what he can do. We will be fundamentally sound. We will play proper technique and we will run full speed to the ball. I've known him and he will have a lot of players around the ball to make plays. We will be tough on defense.

"Depth on defense (because of injuries) is a concern right now, but we are not going to take any steps backwards because of it. We are going to go practice and find out what we have. We are going to put the ones out there and go with them and get them better."

Asked if injuries might effect a planned "true game" to end the spring, Petrino promised it would not.

"We are going to line up with the ones, and play the two and threes," he said. "With the exception of the kicking, it will be a real game. We will have live tackling, except for the quarterbacks. We will get the ones we have ready and go forward."

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