But the players only got a few feet before they were hit from the side by large, red pads being wielded by Arkansas running backs coach Tim Horton and other assistants.
It was apparent from Bobby Petrino's first practice Thursday afternoon that things have changed. The player-friendly practices that were used by Houston Nutt during his days as Arkansas' coach are gone.
Instead, the Razorbacks were thrust into the start of spring practice with an intense, two-hour workout inside the team's indoor facility. The practice was fast-paced, leaving several defensive backs feeling sick on the sidelines.
"I liked the way we came out with our enthusiasm, but this is the easiest practice we'll have all spring because you've had time to prepare for it," Petrino said. "And the players have been anxious."
But for some, the nonstop running and hustling from individual drills to team drills came as a shock. Other players knew exactly what to expect in Petrino's first practice.
"Our meetings are intense, so I knew it was going to be a lot more when we got on the field," Arkansas wide receiver London Crawford said. "He expects big things from us, so when we come out here, I knew it was going to be intense."
Petrino had hoped to open the spring on Arkansas' outdoor practice fields, where hundreds of fans were expected to come out Thursday to get their first look at the new Razorbacks coach. But rain and lightning forced the team indoors.
The bad weather, however, didn't slow down the pace of practice. The players went from one team drill to another without much time for them to catch their breaths.
Running back Michael Smith made an early case for the starting job by darting through holes in the offensive line, and converted linebacker Chip Gregory showed flashes in his first practice working with the tailbacks.
Meanwhile, former Michigan quarterback Ryan Mallett looked impressive in his debut in an Arkansas uniform.
The former five-star recruit, who's hoping to be ruled eligible to play immediately by the NCAA, showed off his arm strength while splitting reps with Arkansas' other quarterbacks. He also proved he could make tough throws in between defenders.
"I felt pretty good about it," Mallett said. "We had guys catching the ball, making plays, so you can't be rusty if you have guys making plays around you the whole time."
It had been awhile since Arkansas' quarterbacks had attempted as many passes in practice as they did Thursday afternoon.
New quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee estimated Mallett, returning starter Casey Dick, redshirt freshman Nathan Dick and junior Alex Mortensen took turns throwing around 100 passes during the two-hour practice.
Mallett said, though he got tired midway through, he was accustomed to throwing that much during his one season at Michigan. He also knew what to expect with Petrino.
"(The coaches) told us we were going to have a fast-tempo pace, we're going from period to period and just be ready," Mallett said. "So I think everybody worked hard in (offseason) conditioning as far as just running and lifting, so I think everybody was in shape today."
While Petrino was hesitant to name specific players who stood out during the first spring practice, he said he was pleased with how the offensive line came off the ball and how the quarterbacks made plays at times.
"I like the tempo. We're not quite where we need to be yet, but we're going to work fast. We're going to work at a fast pace," Petrino said. "Hopefully when we do that, we don't have to spend a lot of time running sprints at the end of practice because we should be in good shape just by the way we practice."
Hogs Have No Time To Rest In Petrino's Practi
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