Arkansas took off the leg pads and knee braces on Friday -- all linemen now wear them on both knees -- in what was a preparation day for a major scrimmage Saturday morning.
"We went a little shorter today," said Paul Petrino, offensive coordinator. "We went in shorts and tried to freshen up. We caught the ball better today."
Petrino joined defensive coordinator Willy Robinson in meeting with the media after Friday's half-padded workout. Both said Saturday's scrimmage would be in the neighborhood of 150 plays, similar to the long, tough scrimmage held seven days ago in the stadium. The only difference is that this one is scheduled to go that long. They said Bobby Petrino added plays last week.
"That was a great call by the head coach," Robinson said. "We were going to go about 130-135 or something in that neighborhood. He does a great job of reading the players, seeing what they can take and what they can do and then going by that during practice.
"I think it was really good what we did that day. He could see they could handle a little bit more. That will be good for them from now on, to understand that they can take that kind of a practice. They won't really ever have to do it again, but they can if they need, in a practice or a game. They will never be there mentally again, wondering if they can handle that kind of a load. They know they can."
There were a few changes in the first team on Friday and they'll probably stay that way at least through the scrimmage. Jose Valdez continues to work at strongside tackle ahead of Mike Aguirre. Valdez moved to the ones midway through Thursday's workout. Darrell Glasper took the first-team plays at cornerback on Friday with Jermar Love sidelined with what appeared to be a thigh injury. The major move appeared to be at middle linebacker where Jermaine Love took the first-team snaps ahead of Jerry Franklin.
Asked who has had a good week with solid strides, Robinson singled out Love, the first-year linebacker from Garland, Texas.
"I think he's doing a great job," Robinson said of Love. "He's a guy that has great tenacity, a tremendous motor, and things are starting to connect for him. The one thing he brings to the table is his ability to strike and we've seen that this week."
Linebacker coach Reggie Johnson pointed to Love's explosion and work ethic that earned him snaps with the first team. Johnson said that's how the scrimmage will open, but that his status there isn't a given.
"What we have is a competition there and at other spots," Johnson said. "At middle linebacker, we've moved it around some. Right now, Jermaine has earned time (with the starters) and he's being rewarded. We'll see how it goes. There isn't anything certain.
"I will say he's got some explosion. He's not real big for the middle, but that's where we need him with this team. He will hit.
"As far as the linebacker group, they are all doing some good things. They are all still making mistakes. We are retraining eyes. That's what linebacker is all about, playing the game with your eyes. We aren't there yet. We are still working on that.
"We are looking forward to seeing what happens in this scrimmage. They are all going to get plays. We are going to see what they can do.
"We've thrown a lot of stuff at them and they are getting better. Some days are better than others. But, for the most part, they are picking it up. We are giving them a lot of progressions. We are retraining them to think and play like football players. Playing zone, it's a task.
"But we have guys who want to play the game. They want to be good. They are working hard. You can get better if that happens.
"We have some physical players and they run well. And, as I said, they want to be good.
"Love has worked his butt off. You can't help but reward hard work. He's earned a right to be with the ones right now."
Interestingly, it didn't start out that way even Friday. Franklin took the opening few snaps with the starters, but Love took over early.
"It might have been the second or third play," Love said. "Jerry made a mistake, and I was in there. Now, that's how it's been on some other days. I've made mistakes and Jerry has gotten ahead of me. We've been rolling back and forth a lot. But today, I was probably out there with the ones for most of it. I'm told that's how it will be for the scrimmage Saturday."
Love was a weakside linebacker in high school and thought that was where he'd play in college.
"Really, it doesn't matter," he said. "I just want to play and help the team. I've gotten where I like mike the best. I prefer it to the outside now.
"We are having fun in practice and we look forward to the scrimmage. Coach P expects the best out of us tomorrow and wants us to play like men. It's going to be tough and that's the fun part to me."
The Hogs began Friday's practice inside Walker Pavilion because of overnight and morning showers, but moved outside for the last 20 minutes to cover some special team duties. The Hogs went over punts, punt coverage, punt return, punt block and field goals before concluding the workout.
Running backs coach Tim Horton said the Hogs would be missing running back Chip Gregory for the scrimmage. He left earlier in the day to be with his family after his grandmother passed. Horton said, "It's my understanding that she was the one who helped a lot in the raising of Chip. We'll get him back next week."
Horton supervised the punt returners. Among those returning punts were Matt Harris, Michael Smith and Darrell Glasper.
Both Paul Petrino and Robinson said the focus the past week has been polish and execution after most of the offensive and defensive packages had been added in the first seven days.
"We haven't added anything to the defense," Robinson said. "So we've been able to come back and finite all the little things. Every day is still a box of chocolates. What we called three weeks ago and what we called today could've been over the river and through the woods three weeks ago and we made the same call and we're still getting a lot of different things that we want to get done. That goes back to our consistency."
It's been a change in some ways for Robinson, who has been at the NFL level for several seasons after coaching in college at Miami and Oregon State.
As far as the transition and the way the players have performed, Robinson said, "You are never satisfied with it. It's a big transition. So i have to keep going back and talking to the coaches who were here last year. Our head coach always gives us a lot of insight. Coaches that have been with our head coach within this package. So, still, the thing about it is through my eyes and where Ive been, the game is a little slow. But they're starting to play faster and they're starting to be the athletes we're expecting them to be. we just have to get some consistency. and hopefully that occurs tomorrow."
Petrino said he's seen the polish come, but it's still not there.
"We look for the execution to improve in the scrimmage," he said. "We have not added a lot, maybe two plays this week. So you'd think that the execution would be better. They are not having to think quite so much. This is a big day coming up for our depth chart. We are going to grade execution, but we grade effort, too. I would hope the recognition would be better in this scrimmage."
Petrino said the top two wideouts have continued to be Marques Wade and London Crawford. He said Crawford has been nursing a bit of an injury after coming out of the gates in very good fashion. He also said Lucas Miller and Carlton Salters have performed well at the inside receiver slot.
"Marques Wade has done well," Petrino said. "He was a player who was at a high school (in Atlanta) that they didn't throw the ball much, so his knowledge of the passing game was low. We've worked hard on that. He's a guy who had basically been on the scout team the last two years. He's getting better. He has good athletic ability."
Reggie Johnson said there is good competition at the linebacker spot.
Casey Dick fires in Friday's indoor workout.
Photos by Marc F. Henning
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