Arkansas moved inside the stadium to make room for about 2,500 fans who enjoyed a blue bird Saturday morning, the Hogs' third practice of the spring and the first open to the public. Days one and two were closed to the public because bad weather forced the Hogs inside Walker Pavilion where there is little room beyond the sidelines.
The Hogs donned full pads for the first time. The team practiced for a little over two hours in another high tempo, high intensity day, obviously the trademark of new coach Bobby Petrino.
There was plenty of contact, although defensive coordinator Willy Robinson insisted afterwards that it wasn't what the staff deemed a physical practice. Those will come as the spring progresses.
"This was not physical," he said. "We have not got to that yet."
There was a middle drill on one end while the skilled position players went through another fast 7-on-7 drill.
Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino noted the offense got a little dead-legged in the high-paced 7-on-7 session and later again in the team period. He thought the wide receivers -- his specialty area -- slowed down a little. He didn't seem surprised.
"This is a lot more running in this offense than what they've had here," Paul Petrino said. "They did (get dead legged), but they are going to get used to this. In time, running this much will not be a big deal. But it is right now, for all of them."
Missing from practice Saturday was cornerback Jerrell Norton. The junior defensive back sustained a hamstring injury Friday and was not available. Going down with what appeared to be a mild ankle sprain was running back Chip Gregory. He got tangled up at the end of a 12-yard run and twisted the ankle. Gregory was off to a good day before the injury. He came back after some work with the trainers, but was held out of the rest of the day.
One of the defensive highlights was free safety Matt Harris. He was a consistent solid tackler, often against the offense's quickest and fastest backs, Brandon Barnett and Michael Harris.
"Those are our make-you-miss guys and Matt didn't miss," said Tim Horton, running backs coach. "I think our backs had a good day, but Matt was sure back there."
Robinson said the same thing about the 6-2, 192-pound junior from Richardson, Texas. Harris is still looking for his first UA letter.
"I thought Matt had a good day," Robinson said. "He's making a nice move. He made some tackles, but that's probably a good news, bad news thing when your safety is making all the tackles. That means some guys up front aren't there. We need to get more hats to the ball. At least we were not giving up a lot of big plays.
"I'm pleased with the way the safeties tackled, but I want the corners to understand that they are not just in cover one and have no tackling responsibilities."
Robinson and Paul Petrino handled all the post-practice interviews, the first day coordinators have been available. That meant head coach Bobby Petrino, who visited with the press after the first two practices, was not available so that his coordinators could handle interviews and then get to the meeting room with the rest of the staff. The head coach will conduct interviews Sunday after a scrimmage, to be held at the end of the 10:30 a.m. workout.
Paul Petrino was pleased with a lot of aspects of the first three workouts. He said he likes what he sees of the wideouts and said those that have been standouts so far are "London Crawford and Marques Wade on the outside and on the inside, Carlton Salters and Lucas Miller."
There have been some dropped passes, Petrino said, "probably too many. Anytime we have any dropped, it bothers me. But you are never going to be great after the first three days. We just need to keep getting better and stay on course. We'll be fine."
One of the highlights for the crowd -- drawing applause -- happened when Petrino chased down field to admonish a receiver who had made a nice catch, but went to the ground to end the play. He chased the receiver as they ran another 25 yards together.
"We want to make effort a habit," Petrino said. "We want our running backs to finish plays by running 25 yards and our receivers 40 yards. No matter what, they need to run that 40 yards. If they get knocked down, get up and run the 40 yards. That's all that was."
The pace of play isn't what it will be as practices progress. For instance, Bobby Petrino wants 42 plays in the 20-minute period for 7-on-7 with quarterbacks, backs and receivers against the secondary and linebackers.
"Today, Bobby blew it up after 38 plays," Paul Petrino said. "We got 38 the first day and we got 41 yesterday. We are getting a little bit better and we will get to 42."
The high intensity of the 7-on-7 drill is probably the highlight of the day for fans. The new staff operates with three offensive huddles and shuttles all seven members of the defensive personnel on every play. While one offensive unit is finishing a play, the next offensive group is in the huddle calling a play and comes to the line just as the previous group peals off the sidelines and the defense shuffles on the field. A third offensive group is in the huddle getting ready as the first one trots back and gets coaching from Bobby Petrino, Paul Petrino and Horton.
Casey Dick and Ryan Mallett seem to have the best day of the quarterbacks, although both Nathan Dick and Alex Mortensen hit on some throws, too. All had some throws where they were a bit off or a bit behind the receivers. D. J. Williams, playing tight end and H-back, was a standout for the third straight day. Petrino praised Williams.
Robinson wasn't pleased with the way linebackers handled Williams over the middle. He said the linebackers are in a transition period.
"The personality of our linebackers is that they can pressure you," Robinson said. "They do that well because that's what they've done here. That is their personality. We see they can do that.
"What we struggle with is playing in space. They have had to go from man-to-man to operating in space. We made (the offense) look good today. But each day we are getting better."
Robinson liked what he saw of the secondary where Harris is at free safety, Dallas Washington is at strong safety and the top corners are Jamar Love and Isaac Madison.
"The fact is, the secondary is not making a lot of mental errors," Robinson said. "Sometimes, I go one day and have an entire page of mental errors. That hasn't been the case here in these first three days and I've seen fewer mental errors each day. That teaches us as coaches that we can expose this group to a few more things and go a bit faster. I think we have found a great place to start with this group."
Robinson also felt good about another aspect Saturday, his own health. He's coming off reconstructive surgery on his knee after sustaining an injury during the NFL season when his quadricep was torne away from the knee and the tendons of his lower leg were torn away from the bone. He underwent surgery that required 120 stitches on the inside of the knee and another 30 on the outside.
"I ran today, I did," he said. "But it still really hurts. I had to have all that tissue reattached to the bone. I was coming back from the locker room running to the press box at halftime of a game and I went one way and my knee went the other. I just confused with which way to go.
"I'm hurting, but the (training) staff has done a great job with it here. I just probably haven't had the time because of our meetings to do everything they want me to do. But I'm getting better."
Arkansas will continue spring drills with its fourth workout of the spring at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. There will also be a voluntary chapel in conjunction with the Sunday workout. The practice will be open to the fans, weather permitting.
Chip Gregory rolls after a drill, after going under a gate designed to lower runner's lean.
Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino focuses on wideout Reggie Fish's break off the line.
London Crawford makes a catch in preliminary drills.
Photos by Marc F. Henning
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