Monday Grid Update, 8/18

Bobby Petrino gave the Hogs the day off Sunday, then bemoaned the lack of hot weather as they returned to the practice field on Monday.

Another day of cool weather left Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino with a bit of a frown. He knows there may be days the Hogs travel to territory with intense heat, perhaps as soon as the September trip to Austin.

"We need more heat," Petrino said after Monday's afternoon workout, the lone practice of the day for the Razorbacks. "It's nice weather to practice in, but I worry about it when we have to play in some real heat."

Petrino said the film review of Saturday's scrimmage revealed some good performances by individuals, but he still wants some polish so that the units work together.

"We had good individual plays, but we also need to get better," he said. "We need to play as a unit. For example, on defense, we had eight or nine do good things on a play, but we might have had a couple of breakdowns. We are working with some young ones and that is going to happen. We have to improve that."

Among the individuals who had solid days included free safety Matt Harris.

"Matt had a good performance," Petrino said. "He probably led us in tackles. We are real happy with Harris."

As far as overall safety play, Petrino also liked what he saw from true freshman Elton Ford. He said Ford and Harris would both play at free safety. He also said there would be a two-man rotation at strong safety with Dallas Washington and Rashaad Johnson.

"All four will play and we'll try to keep them fresh," he said. "Ford is real big and real physical. He can tackle and hit. But he still makes mistakes because of his youth."

The cornerbacks had some good moments, with Ramon Broadway out-performing Jamar Love at the boundary side in the scrimmage. Shedrick Johnson is also working at the boundary corner. On the field corner side, Isaac Madison is working ahead of true freshman Tremain Thomas.

"Isaac has been real solid," Petrino said. "He's very talented and has done a good job at that position. He understands the position. Thomas is getting a lot of reps there, too. He's big and talented and he's going to be a real good player in time."

Broadway and Johnson are working as gunners in punt coverage, but Petrino said that the system utilized in that scheme puts speed at the inside spots, too.

"We really have a lot of gunners, not just the outside guys," he said. "We are working hard on those areas."

Some of the Hogs' talented freshmen aren't on the field because of injuries, but may be close to making a return. Running back De'Anthony Curtis and linebacker Tenarius Wright both came onto the field for the early part of the drills, but fell back to the rehab area for part of the day.

"I think we may get them back pretty soon," Petrino said. "I think we may get Elston Forte back at weakside linebacker at the end of the week, too."

For now, freshmen Khiry Battle and Jelani Smith are getting a lot of work at the weakside linebacker spot.

"They are in there working," Petrino said of the freshmen. "We are doing as much as we can with them. They are going to have to learn on the job."

Petrino said he's been pleased with the defensive line play and that includes ends and tackles. However, he said the scrimmage situations may not have been fair to those two spots.

"What we are doing now is to keep the ones out there for a period and then the twos together, but when we play a game we plan to rotate the defensive line.

"So we have eight guys in the line and we'll keep them fresh with a rotation. But that doesn't happen in the scrimmage when they are going ones and twos. The same ones have to stay out there. It's hard on those defensive linemen.

"Ernest Mitchell is doing well at nose tackle. He's smart and he understands blocking schemes. Malcolm Sheppard is doing a great job with effort and he's very good in the pass rush. Sometimes he hurts us with his aggressiveness.

"We have four defensive ends and all of them will play a lot. We'll keep them fresh. I think once we do that, they are going to be much better and their pass rush will be better. Lavunce Askew is a young one who is doing a nice job. He's very talented. He has a knack for picking up the blocking schemes and has some pass rush."

Adrian Davis, a third-year player at end, likes the concept.

"It's a nice rotation," Davis said. "I think we can stay fresh. We are learning the system and the different things we do at end. We can drop into coverage. We can cover tight ends. We are learning it. It's a very good system."

Asked about the cool weather, Davis said, "It may not be hot, but nothing we've done the past couple of weeks has been easy. It is still very difficult."

Running back Michael Smith said the same thing. Players had the day off Sunday. Smith was in a panic when he slept until 2 p.m.

"I didn't get out of bed all morning and then into the afternoon," he said. "When I woke up it scared me when I saw 2 p.m. on the clock. I thought I might have missed a meeting, then I realized that it was an off day, nothing all day.

"We needed it. I've lost about 10 pounds. It's been a real grind, the toughest thing I've ever done. We haven't done any wind sprints, but you don't need them at running back in this system. Every single play, you sprint 40 yards. That's your running right there."

Smith said he's had no problems with the hamstring and groin injuries that have plagued him in past years, both in college and high school.

"We don't talk about that, don't jinx it," he said. "I'm feeling good. Just tired. I've never been through anything like it.

"Cool weather? I don't know that we've felt like it's cool. We've had a tough, tough camp. We are a Bobby Petrino team and it's going to be difficult. We are in his cavalry now and we've been through his fall camp so we are ready to go play."

Petrino said it will get easier over the next couple of weeks as practices ease to get "our legs fresh. We'll have two practices (Tuesday), but one of them, for special teams, will be short. We won't go long and some of it will be a walk through. We are going to get fresher by Friday. Really it is going to be a practice and a half."

Petrino sees parts of the team coming together. He likes the way the quarterbacks and receivers have clicked.

"We are throwing and catching it better," he said. "We are throwing more accurate and we don't have the ball hitting the ground. We aren't having drops. We keep talking about consistency and we have to do better, but we are getting better.

"We've got to do better with our defense, but we are going to keep believing and we are going to keep getting better."

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