Wednesday Grid Update, 8/20

Sometimes less is better. That might be the case for the Arkansas defense as the season opener approaches. Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson was pleased after Wednesday's workout.

After a couple of weeks of heavy installation work, the Arkansas defense was handed a more limited package for Wednesday's workout. The results were good.

"We had a better practice," said Willy Robinson, defensive coordinator. "Better attitude. We took a big step ahead. There weren't as many coaches voices today and more players voices. That was good.

"It hit a little bit of a lull in the middle of the practice so we still have to get better. We slowed down. We still have to work on finishing practice and running full speed to the end. We still have plays where one guy doesn't do it and we aren't working as a full team, all 11 doing it right."

Robinson said it was a matter of going back over the game plan created in the summer and cutting back ahead of the opener, less than two weeks away.

"We decided we may have to change the game plan," he said. "We decided to whittle back and that let the players play faster. Today we did that. That us to playing faster. We were working against what Western Illinois does and cutting back what we do."

Obviously, that put Robinson in a better mood than he was earlier in fall camp when he complained about effort of the defense.

Robinson said he's still moving players up and down the depth chart, pushing buttons trying to get solid performances throughout the two deep.

Ramon Broadway has moved ahead of Jamar Love at the boundary cornerback slot, although Robinson said that situation isn't set in stone.

"We move a player up and we expect the player that went down to bristle up, come back and play better," Robinson said. "Broadway is first right now. We don't expect it to stay that way. We think Love will fight back.

"What we know is that if one guy doesn't do his job, things change. For sure, cornerback is not etched in stone. We just don't think Love has been up to his capabilities right now."

Robinson has been pleased with Isaac Madison at the field corner slot, but said there is improvement needed there, too.

"Madison knows his assignments, but he needs to get better at tackling," he said. "We need to get better at tackling at all of our corner spots. Isaac has had some good days, just needs to tackle better.

"What we are seeing is that our corners, all of these guys, can play the scheme. We just need to keep getting better."

At safety, Matt Harris is getting a lot of snaps at the tight safety slot, what is commonly called the strong safety. He opened spring at free safety, but concern arose there because Walner Leandre was moved from tight safety to the jack/linebacker slot in the front seven and Dallas Washington has had some minor injuries.

"We are having too many missed tackles at the safety spots and that might be because we have a lot of freshmen escalating through the ranks," Robinson said. "What we have there is some growing pains with all of these freshmen.

"We have given Elton Ford a lot of work at the open safety and he's a tough player and physical, but he doesn't understand the concepts. It's not because he isn't trying or he isn't a good learner. It's just that it takes time.

"We've given Matt Harris looks at tight safety and we just need him to settle down. If he can do that, he can play faster. You are just a little closer to everything at tight safety and things happen there quicker. It comes fast, but he's capable. It could be (Washington) there, or it could be (Harris). We just have to keep working to find continuity in the back end."

The Hogs are still thin at weakside linebacker where Khiry Battle continues to get a lot of work. However, Robinson is hopeful that senior captain Elston Forte will soon come off the injury list.

"I think that will be sooner rather than later for Elston," Robinson said. "Some of the others are further away. (Battle) is making some strides there with some of the others sitting out.

"(Jerry Franklin) is doing great and we are seeing (Jermaine Love) grow at middle linebacker."

Robinson is still hopeful that Lavunce Askew will make a move at defensive tackle to provide more depth, but there are some problems for the true freshman.

"He's still not where he needs to be," Robinson said. "He's not in the condition he needs to be at and he's not playing with a low enough pad level. He's not playing with his hands enough."

On the offensive side, running backs coach Tim Horton said Chip Gregory was closer to full speed and had a "better day" on Wednesday.

"He's improved a little in his ball security," Horton said. "We are working hard on that area. He's had to move his hand position so the ball sits in tight to his rib cage with pressure from the elbow. The back end wasn't secured properly and he's better there now."

Dennis Johnson continues to get a lot of looks at running back with De'Anthony Curtis still on the injured list.

"Dennis is really doing some good things," Horton said. "He's going to play and play a lot early. Michael Smith is having a great camp, but we aren't going to give Michael 25 to 35 carries. It's going to be more like 15 to 20 for Michael. It's going to be more running back by committee. That means there are some carries for someone else. Dennis is going to get some of those."

Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino called out the tight ends as a group after Tuesday's morning workout. Tight end D. J. Williams said that means his group has to pick it up.

"We've got to do a better job in all areas," Williams said. "We are working hard to make improvement in our routes, our blocking and the other areas we are in the offense.

"I think part of what wasn't as good was that we were tiring down, letting fatigue get to us. We have to overcome that and make sure that we are able to win the fourth quarter. You are going to be fatigued at the end, but you can't let it bother you.

"The tight ends, all of us - me, Andrew and Ben - take pride in what we do. We are trying to fight and be more intense and limit the mistakes."

Williams is trying to gain weight after dropping close to 30 pounds in the last eight months.

"I got pretty big for the Cotton Bowl, about 260 almost," he said. "I got down to 230 and now I'm gaining it back. I think I was faster at 230, but when you think about trying to block a 290-pound SEC defensive end, I wasn't big enough. I'm trying to get back to 245 or in that area. I just got too light.

"There are some times that I have an advantage at my current weight, when it's a cornerback in coverage, or maybe even when it's a safety. But some of the bigger linebackers have some weight on me and I know the ends do. The coaches want me bigger and I'm going to get there."

Williams said he sees a big improvement in the last few days from the defense.

"The offense always likes to think they have the upper hand and win in 11-on-11 situations and we've done that, but the defense is winning more," he said. "I see a big change over the last few days from where the defense was in the spring. They are moving a lot faster, flying around."

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