Defense Good, Bad On First Day in Pads

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said there was good news and bad news during the Razorbacks' first day of contact drills.

For starters, his group didn't give up too many big plays in front of a crowd of curious fans. Then again, his leading tacklers came from the secondary after ball carriers slipped past the front seven.

"I don't think we attacked the line of scrimmage which is a goal Coach (Bobby Petrino) has set for us on defense," Robinson said. "I think we were catching too much. I thought we were getting enough hats to the ball. If we can get it figured out about winning at the line of scrimmage we'll be fine."

Robinson, who coached with the St. Louis Rams last season, is trying to mold an inexperienced group that must replace six starters this spring. In addition, the Razorbacks also are practicing without suspended linebacker Freddie Fairchild and injured players like Walner Leandre, Ernest Mitchell and Marcus Shavers.

The fresh start has been challenging for those that have returned. Robinson said the Razorbacks are installing more zone defenses than players were used to in former coordinator Reggie Herring's pressure schemes. He said the bulk of the burden falls on the linebackers, who are being asked to play in space.

"They are all on the same learning curve right now," Robinson said when asked if any defensive players have stood out after three days. "It's all a new defense. It's not like there is carry over from a year before where you'd see a little bit more speed and decision making."

The defense struggled early during a nine-man drill against the offense Saturday, giving up chunks of yards to tailbacks. But defensive players like linebacker Elston Forte and safety Matt Harris also turned in some big plays during Arkansas' two-hour practice.

Robinson said the defense still has a long way to go, but the good news is that they've improved daily.

"That's always a goal," he said. "We're always trying to improve at one thing."

Big Role for Harris?

Harris played in four games and recorded three tackles in his first three years at Arkansas, but his role has expanded this spring.

The junior, whose father, Cliff Harris, was an all-pro safety for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1970s, has spent the past two days working with the first-team defense at free safety. In addition, Harris also is auditioning for positions as Arkansas' punt returner and as the holder on field goals and extra points.

"That's what you work for in football," Harris said. "It's really satisfying to be sitting at No. 1, but it's spring ball. You've got to compete every day no matter what."

Harris said he is much more confident this spring after spending much of the past three years working on his weight. Harris started the spring weighing 192 pounds, but said his speed has helped him improve as well.

"I feel like I can just move better with the athletes on the field," Harris said. "This is the (Southeastern Conference). It's speed, speed, speed. If you've got technique and speed, you can run with anybody."

Better Days for QBs

Junior Casey Dick and sophomore Ryan Mallett completed passes that led to loud cheers from the fans watching Saturday's practice. But not everyone was impressed by the quarterbacks' performances.

"We've had better days," quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee said. "We've just got to do a better job of focusing and concentrating. It takes that to play, No. 1, at this level and, No. 2, in this offense because it's on the quarterback. The quarterback has to run the show.

"Our focus and our concentration has to be at an extreme level. I thought we took a step back (Saturday), but it was a practice session and we get to come back out (today) and go back at it."

Brace Yourself

Arkansas' offensive and defensive linemen have something noticeable in common this spring: Every lineman is wearing knee braces on the practice field.

Defensive end Adrian Davis said it's part of Arkansas' plan to keep their linemen protected during what is supposed to be a spring full of contact. Davis has never worn braces before and said it has taken time to adjust to the change. But he understands the reasoning.

"We've been struggling for three days trying to get used to it," Davis said. "That's the worst thing to have when you're coming off the edge. But if it stops me from getting hurt, I don't mind."

However, Davis believes the knee braces are just for the spring. Players won't have to wear them next fall.

Injury Report

Cornerback Jerrell Norton did not practice after sustaining a hamstring injury Friday. The junior spent portions of practice walking the stadium steps.

Norton joined defensive teammates Leandre, Mitchell and Shavers on the sidelines Saturday.

In addition, running back Chip Gregory missed portions of practice after getting rolled up on by a defensive player during a contact drill. Gregory's left ankle was treated by the training staff and he eventually returned.

Today's Schedule

Arkansas will practice at 10:30 this morning and the workout is open to the public, weather permitting.

A voluntary chapel service has been set up for players who wish to attend after the workout.

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