Thursday's Grid Update, 4/24

Arkansas is winding down spring drills. They have battled first team against first team, but they'll split up for a game Saturday night.

The sign in the weight room in Walker Pavilion reads "Iron Sharpens Iron." That's been the motto this spring. It was clearly the emphasis Thursday, in practice No. 13 of 15 this spring. It's been the first team offense against the first team offense in every scrimmage and almost every 11-on-11 session.

But over the course of the next two days there may be some separation as Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino pits the first team against the twos and threes in Saturday's Red-White game.

"I guess that's right, we have been going ones against ones every day, every scrimmage," said tight end Andrew Davie. "I hadn't thought about it that much. It's better if you don't try to figure things out too much. It's been such a grind. I think we all just went out there and did everything we could about pushing ourself as hard as we could from the start of practice to the end.

"And, as far as the game, we haven't been told too much just yet. We'll probably learn about all of that Friday. I don't ask too many questions about too many days in advance. It's been very diffiicult and I'm just focusing on today.

"I will say that we all will be excited to play the game. If anyone says they play football because they love to practice, they are probably telling a lie and you and I both know it. You live for the game. I think we will all be excited to get to the game Saturday night. I know I am looking forward to it."

One of the exceptions to that rule as far as spliting the first and second units on Saturday's game will be at tight end where Petrino will keep personnel groups intact. For example, Davie and D. J. Williams, the top two tight ends, will stay together on the Red team, comprised of the starters.

"I can see that," Davie said. "We've been in two tight sets a lot this spring, so you'd have to do that, I'm sure. But I don't know that for sure."

The sports information office confirmed that much with the release of the two rosters for the game. Some players will work with both teams, like tailback Brandon Barnett. Both Davie and Williams are listed only with the Red team, however.

The tight ends have been one of the big bright spots for the spring. Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson, who stood in for the head coach in Wednesday's post-practice media session, didn't want to single out any individuals for his side of the ball, but he was quick to name some on the other side.

"Tight ends, they've been very good," Robinson said. "I'm talking one through four at tight end. They are awfully good. They've played awfully well from start to finish this spring. They are really impressive at the point of attack in run blocking and they run good routes and they catch it well. All four of them."

That would be Davie, Williams, Lance Thompson and Ben Cleveland.

"Really, I'd throw in Joseph Henry, too," Davie said, speaking up for the fifth tight end, a walkon from Little Rock Central. "He's had a good spring. He's catching it."

There is little doubt all are catching the ball well, but Davie is glad Robinson praised their blocking as a group. Davie said it's clear no one is going to play at tight end in this offense if they can't block well.

"We try to emphasize as a group to be playmakers in the passing game, but our blocking is just as important," Davie said. "If you can't block in the SEC, you aren't going to get on the field. The best athletes in the country are the SEC's defensive ends. They are the biggest, baddest players in college football, the SEC's defensive ends. It's the next thing to being in the show, the NFL, these defensive ends. And, you better be able to block them if you are going to play.

"It's what we are working very hard on this spring. You can't be soft and play. We are all working hard to handle that assignment."

Davie's strength has always been as a blocker first, pass catcher second. He shed a few pounds this winter and has lost a few more this spring. He said he played at 270 last fall, but is around 257 right now.

"I lost some this winter, and then with all of the route running we've done this spring, a few more have fallen off," he said. "You sprint 40 yards after every catch. That kind of running will take a few pounds off of you. We've emphasized making plays after the catch, becoming a ball carrier. That's been the emphasis and it's probably made me a little faster, a little quicker this spring."

Quick enough to be a running back? No problem, Davie said. He's played some fullback this spring, along with Williams. Thompson has been mostly a fullback the last few workouts.

"We all have been at fullback some, but Lance was really there lately," Davie said. "It helps to be versatile if you want to get on the field. Lance was ready to do that."

Robinson liked what he saw of Thursday workout from a defensive perspective.

"Today was one of our better day's," Robinson said. "We just hope to get more consistent in our play. But it was a good start for the middle of the week."

Robinson said the strength of the practice came up front.

"We were better at the point of attack," he said. "We haven't always done well in that area. Our offensive line is very good. But today we did well up front."

Robinson said the cornerbacks had a good day, but the safeties have played better than in Thursday's workout. He said overall the corners have been a source of strength for the defense this spring.

"Our underneath coverage was very good early in practice," he said of the linebackers. "They did well at the start although it wasn't quite as good as they got tired."

Robinson is excited about what lies ahead for the rest of the week. The team has focused on a "show time" atmosphere for Saturday's spring game.

"This is different than anything I've experienced, this atmosphere in this state and this city," Robinson said. "And, it's the reason I came here and to college."

Robinson said it's been 12 years since he experienced a spring game, but he said none of his stops in college -- Fresno, Miami or Oregon State -- featured anything special for a spring game.

"What this is going to be like is going to be new to me," he said. "I think our players are excited. What we want to see now is how they perform in this kind of an environment. We want to see how they do and if they can eliminate mental errors in this atmosphere. The emphasis will be for us to run to the ball. That's the emphasis of this head coach and that's what we will be looking for Saturday night. We might have a mental error, but we still want them running to the ball."

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