Three days off did wonders for the walking wounded with the Arkansas football team. Most were back on the field Tuesday as the Hogs held their eighth day of spring football drills. It was the first workout since a long scrimmage Friday.
"It was great to get back out there and work on things," head coach Bobby Petrino said after Tuesday's workout. "We had a good video to look at and a good number of plays to look at. Everyone got better as it went along (Friday)."
Among the highlights, Petrino said the offensive line and top two tight ends did well. He also praised the rush from the defensive ends. He said the linebackers ran to the ball in great fashion and did well with their hitting. He aded that the coaches now need to make sure the linebackers always "run in the right direction."
Wide receiver London Crawford (hamstring), running back Michael Smith (hip bruise), running back Chip Gregory (ankle) and outside linebacker Elston Forte (concussion) all practiced at close to full speed Tuesday after missing most of the scrimmage Friday. Still out is quarterback Ryan Mallett (right thumb) and cornerback Jerrell Norton (hamstring).
Mallett sustained an injury to his right thumb and is out for the duration of the spring. Mallett was at practice Tuesday, but wearing a cast to his right hand. He stayed with the quarterbacks during part of the workout and did conditioning at other times. Norton has a hamstring injury and is not in full pads.
Petrino said Smith sustained a hit to his hip in the pass skeleton portion of Friday's workout. He carried one play, but then left the workout. Gregory, bothered by a high ankle sprain, did more in Tuesday's workout than he did in a week. As practice concluded Gregory trotted past the head coach and was asked, "Getting better Chip?" The sophomore back nodded in the affirmative.
Running backs coach Tim Horton said his group fared better Tuesday, perhaps because the numbers returned to a healthy total.
"We just had more out there today," Horton said. "They look better when Michael Smith is out there with us."
Horton said Brandon Barnett had a "bad day" in the scrimmage with two fumbles on contact past the line of scrimmage, and two more on dropped pitches.
"He has not had a history of fumbling, but that's what we worked on today," Horton said. "We worked on fundamentals and ball security. He was very good today with that."
Petrino said "everyone could see" the superb play of D. J. Williams and Andrew Davie at tight end, fullback and H-back in the scrimmage.
"Those are two very good football players," Petrino said. "They made some plays. They did a good job catching it and they made some nice blocks.
"As far as what we have been doing with the tight ends, we'll continue to install some things for them. That's a pretty good personnel group with those two."
Horton said it's been good to see both of those in his area at times.
"We can use them at fullback," Horton said. "They both have the ability to help us there with their blocking and ability to run routes. They are dynamic players, maybe our two most dynamic players.
"D. J. Williams has lost some weight (20 pounds) and has done a nice job with what we have been doing. He has the ability to get open and then snatch the ball with his hands. He has made some great catches this spring."
The quarterbacks did some nice things, the head coach said. But they also made some mistakes and slipped in their technique.
"Casey Dick made some good decisions and he's getting better with some things," Petrino said. "But as far as technique, he took a step back in his footwork. He moved back in the pocket and we worked on that today."
Petrino had mentioned earlier in spring drills that a point of emphasis had been to step up in the pocket before making throws to help offensive linemen in the way they blocked the pocket.
With Mallett missing the rest of the spring, Petrino said Alex Mortensen and Nathan Dick will split the rest of the snaps behind Casey Dick in a "50-50" ratio as far as the second team. Petrino said both Mortensen and Nathan Dick had some good plays in the scrimmage but have a lot to work on.
The installation of the offense, per Petrino's pre-spring plan, was put on hold Tuesday as the coaches go back over those plays and work to polish them. They'll continue that several days as they assess the strengths of the offense.
Obviously, one of them is the offensive line where All-America center Jonathan Luigs returns. Petrino also has been pleased with the play of strongside tackle Michael Aguirre, who has been with the first team since the third workout of spring drills.
"Aguirre has done well with our pass sets, he just needs to get his run blocking better," Petrino said. "Mitch Petrus had his best day (Friday). He utilized his technique much better and didn't play as wild."
Luigs said the Friday scrimmage "was a grind" but something that wasn't as bad at the end of the practice as he expected.
"I think once you worked up a sweat, it got better and you could get into the flow," Luigs said. "The more you got a sweat going, the better we got. You saw our offense make some strides in what has been taught and I think you saw the defense make some strides, too."
Asked about Aguirre's play, Luigs said, "He's in his fourth year. He knows how to play and knows what it's like. He's like all of us, he's working hard and he's getting better. We are all doing that and learning what Coach (Mike) Summers is teaching us."
Summer, offensive line coach, said there were times that the defensive ends got some pressure, especially against the second offensive line. However, he said, "There were also some times when our line got the best of the defense. What we need is just more consistency."
Interestingly, Summers has yet to see great benefits from the way the offensive line played in the past to the current system.
"Everyone keeps telling me how great these guys run block," Summers said. "What I can tell you is that they haven't blocked great on the running plays we've called. I don't think there was a lot of carry over from what they did to what we are doing.
"What I can tell you is that we have a good group. I'm excited about this group and the potential for success.
"We've still got a lot of work to do, though. We still have some work to do with our conditioning and need to work on finishing plays with effort."
Summers said Aguirre has picked up the movements in the basic pass blocking sets in the new system faster than others.
"He's meshed well with the group we've got up there (with the first team) and he tries hard and has worked at learning our movements," Summers said. "He does still need to improve his run blocking technique.
"All of them have started to see the criteria that we've put down and are at different levels of picking it all up. He's just done a good job of mastering the movements before some of the others."
Bobby Petrino watches action Tuesday.
Wide receiver Carlton Salters tosses a ball to a teammate during the ball machine drill early in the workout.
Ryan Mallett's thumb injury will keep him out of the rest of spring drills.
Photos by Marc F. Henning
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