Toughness is emphasized at every turn with Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, but he's also cautious when the temperature soars near triple digits. That was obvious Monday as the Razorbacks begin fall drills with a long workout in severe heat.
The Hogs took a break about midway through the workout with Petrino sending the team to the shade under the overhang of the weight room at the south end of the practice fields. Thermometers around the field had the temperatures during the workout right at 100 degrees.
"The heat was a factor in what we did today," Petrino said after the Hogs began fall camp. "I think it was obvious that the heat effected our concentration. That's one of the keys when you are in heat like this, are you going to keep (concentrating).
"We've got a long ways to go. That's obvious. But we did accomplish some things. It was good to see the freshmen out there in the early drills."
Petrino said giving the squad a break in severe heat is something he's always done during his time as head coach. He said new trainer Joe Sheehan agreed with that plan, noting he'd done the same thing during his days in the Florida heat while with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"Joe wanted to do it, too," Petrino said. "We want to be careful in this kind of heat. We don't want to lose too many to dehydration and we didn't today. I really wanted to stop the practice earlier than we did today, but the way it was set up the break came later. We'll move it up as we go along. We wanted to get them out of the sun for a few minutes, get them in the cool zone fans and get them lots of water.
"Today, we knew the heat was going to be part of the practice and it was."
Among those suffering with heat related cramps during the workout were guard Kareem Crowell and tailback Dennis Johnson. Neither situation was thought to be serious.
Petrino thought the offense hit snags at several points in the practice, most notably the offensive line.
"The offensive line sets the tone for the practice and today they weren't firing off as well as they can in certain periods," Petrino said. "It may have been the way the practice was set up. The defense had more periods of teaching and might have been fresher at some points. The defense was flying around a little better. I also know that it helps the offensive line when you put on pads and hit a little. That changes things in favor of the offense a little bit and we weren't in pads today."
Petrino praised the work of the freshmen, especially Joe Adams, Dennis Johnson and De'Anthony Curtis in punt return segments. Those players did well in the special team segments. Petrino praised their vision.
Adams caught some deep passes in both the pass skeleton drills and in team work. That caught Petrino's eyes, but he had special praise for freshman wideout Jarius Wright.
"Jarius is quick, fast and he very tough," Petrino said. "The heat didn't seem to bother him as much as some of the others. He is tough."
Petrino noted improvement from quarterback Ryan Mallett, redshirting this year after a transfer, over what he saw in the early spring, before a thumb injury.
"He's gotten better and we got him some reps today," Petrino said.
The head coach noted that Mallett will work with the scout team, but also get some time with some varsity. "We'll split his time up both ways," Petrino said. "We'll let him do both and we want to get him some reps without hurting someone else too much. He's got a lot of talent and his release looked very good today."
Petrino said all of the quarterbacks were a little nervous in the first workout.
"That's how it usually goes," he said. "They were hyper ventilating a little bit. Casey (Dick) got better as the day went along. Both of the freshmen (Tyler Wilson and Jim Youngblood) struggled a little bit, but that was to be expected. We like to put pressure on them right away."
Several players out in the spring were back at practice, including tackle Ernest Mitchell and linebacker Wendell Davis. However, both are still not quite at full speed. Cornerback Jerrell Norton was also back at practice after missing almost all of the spring with a hamstring pull, but he will likely be out for another stretch with a different injury. Tailback Brandon Barnett, who had a knee scoped after spring, was at practice, but was unable to work at full speed and spent a good deal of the workout on the side rehabbing with trainers.
"In a routine physical, we found something that will need to be cleared up with surgery (with Norton)," Petrino said. "It's a hernia, a regular hernia, not a sports hernia. We decided to bring him in with our 105 anyway. We'll get that done right away and he'll probably miss four to six weeks."
Running back Michael Smith appeared to be full speed after undergoing sports hernia surgery following spring drills. He said there were no problems with that situation Monday.
"As far as the injury, there was nothing to it today," he said. "I'm just fine now. I did cramp up a little at the very end, but not too bad. I'll just need to take a little more water. I thought I took plenty, but I'll take more tonight."
Smith said he was thankful for the new help in the backfield, noting Curtis and Johnson both had good days.
"The young ones, boy am I glad to have them," Smith said. "They don't know everything yet, but they'll get there. It was so good to have them out there today and we are going to need everyone we've got to get through this year. They are good players and they came ready to work."
Curtis said the practice was the hardest thing he'd ever done, but it was about what he expected.
"I knew what it was going to be like," he said. "And, it was right about where all of us thought it would be ... very tough, very fast. We did some of the same things this summer so we knew what was coming, but it was still hard."
Jarius Wright said the same thing.
"I've been through heat before, so that wasn't a shock," he said. "But to have a practice this fast, this tempo in the heat, now that was hard. You just have to set your mind that it isn't going to bother you. You have to fight through it and not think about the heat.
"I thought it was a good day. It was everything I had hoped for when you think about college and getting a chance. You come to college to play. We got a chance with all of the quarterbacks and I got good passes from all of them. I thought all my passes were catchable and you have to catch them like that. I thought we did alright."
Joe Adams was excited about the chance to return punts.
"I did that in high school and always loved it," Adams said. "Today was just about coming out to learn some new things, some new drills."
Curtis sported a smile with a missing front tooth. Adams was giving him a hard time in the background, mocking his freshman teammate. But when the missing tooth came up, Adams knew all about it.
"If you are going to lose your front tooth, that's how you do it ... the way he tells it, he was dunking a basketball and his tooth got caught in the net and pulled out," Adams said. "At least that's what he's been telling us."
Curtis nodded his head at the story Adams told.
"Yes, sir, that's it," he said. "They all kinda like that story, my new teammates.
"We are all trying to have a good time and work hard together. It was good to get started today. I thought it went pretty well. I guess it was probably a little more than what some of expected. I'd been told it was going to be tough, but maybe I didn't think quite this tough."
Antwain Robinson tries to cool off at Monday's opening practice.
Bobby Petrino watches quarterback Tyler Wilson.
Casey Dick loosens up at practice.
De'Anthony Curtis checks for backfield coach Tim Horton's reach during a ball security drill.
Joe Adams turns up field after a catch.
Michael Smith catches his breath between drills.
Photos by Marc F. Henning
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