The Hogs went inside Reynolds Razorback Stadium with light rain and a cool breeze limiting the fans in the stands, but it was just right for a long, tough practice on the field.
Offense held the upper hand from the start to the finish with all three quarterbacks (Ryan Mallett, Tyler Wilson and Jim Youngblood) splitting time with sometimes spectacular results in the deep passing game. Mallett sparkled with some of his laser-like throws on deep, double move routes by the wide receivers. Jarius Wright seemed to have the most big catches, but others dazzled, too.
While that was good for one half of the squad, the other half heard it from head coach Bobby Petrino at several points during the workout. At one point, Petrino ordered the second unit onto the field with a shout, "Take someone's job!"
After the workout, defensive coordinator Willy Robinson and offensive coordinator Paul Petrino met with the media, in that order. Not surprisingly, Robinson said he was frustrated while Petrino saw a lot of good things.
Robinson was clutching to a watch with a broken wrist band. When a TV reporter inquired about the watch, Robinson handed it over.
"You can have it," Robinson said. "That's how expensive it is."
It was clear Robinson was more frustrated with the practice than the state of his watch band.
"It was a good, long practice and we got tired," he said. "We have to learn how to finish. There were ebbs and flows to the entire thing. Offensively, they had their ups and we had ours, too. At the end, we didn't have any leadership on defense. So that's where we have to overcome and someone has to pick it up.
"The shame of it all, they let their minds take over. They got tired. They should know it can happen anytime, any place. They should realize we lost eight games on the last play of the freaking game. We have to learn how to finish. We can't look at the schedule and worry about when it's supposed to end. That's the call of the coach. He made the right call and we have to respond to it.
"When they get tired, they have to get pissed off and stay pissed off. If they had gotten after it, coach would have realized it. They didn't. It's on us. I'm going to make sure it doesn't happen again."
On the plus side, Robinson thought the defensive line had a good day.
"I thought our ends played well and on the inside I thought Alfred Davis had a good day," Robinson said. "And, that was a giant step from our first practice. Malcolm Sheppard is playing very well. He has to stay within the package. Sometimes he creates things and when he does that he breaks down the integrity of the package. He's got to stop doing that, do what he is coached to do."
As far as the next two levels of defense, Robinson said he sees some good things, especially as far as knowledge of the scheme compared to last year at the same time.
"We are a lot further ahead," he said. "We stayed and watched the first practice last night. I stayed afterwards and put in the first practice of last year. It was like night and day. I had to find something to feel good about. I had to find something to feel good about so I had to go back to see where we were and how much growth we've had. We had some young guys who have made giant strides at linebacker and in the secondary."
Offensively, Paul Petrino said he saw "a lot of bright spots" after two days.
"I think definitely guys understand the offense a little better," Petrino said. "We've seen some good plays. Ryan Mallett has done some real nice things the first two days. Jarius Wright made some big plays out there today. Joe Adams moved around and made some nice plays. London Crawford had some nice catches, too.
"You definitely see the depth at running back. That's something that is real excited. I think they saw on film that there are more guys and they see that and they are definitely competing against each other. That makes them work harder. Really that's our ultimate goal at all positions. Really, you get enough talent and depth that you don't have to say a word to them. You just pull them out and put in the next guy. That's when you definitely know where you want to be.
"Definitely, the deep pass with Ryan is something we know we can do (more). It's just a part of the guys of understanding the offense. It helps get people open deep. You get guys open deep more. Guys are understanding the right routes. They are doing the little details.
"There are definitely some things we aren't doing, but I think we got a little tougher today. It was a long practice and we took a lot of reps. That one offensive line took a ton of reps at the end and got better. That's what we definitely need to do, just keep grinding and keep fighting and get a little better each day to get where we need to be."
Chris Gragg had his second brilliant day at tight end. The former wideout was a favorite target for quarterbacks Ryan Mallett, Tyler Wilson and Jim Youngblood -- and all three QBs had solid second days.
"Gragg has gotten bigger, stronger and faster," Petrino said. "He's a definite matchup problem for linebackers. He's going to be hard to defend against. He's had real good first two days. He's definitely someone we are excited about and we just have to keep working with."
Petrino said the competition has been apparent in the backfield. A reporter asked about Knile Davis, true freshman and mid-term arrival, but Petrino quickly turned the conversation to Dennis Johnson. "I think Dennis has had two real good days," Petrino said. "
The first offensive line appeared to have a solid day. Seth Oxner moved ahead of Grant Cook at the first team strong guard slot. He also moved over to center to work with the first team late in the workout. Oxner is a third-year sophomore who has moved into the picture after an impressive winter in the weight room.
"Coach (Mike) Summers told us when we got back from Christmas break that I'd be a guard and move around between center and guard depending on what they saw," Oxner said. "It really wasn't that hard to learn the plays. If you know center, then you know guard. I played guard in high school. I know this is a big difference between high school and college, but I was a guard my senior year. It really wasn't a big change."
The Hogs have been in shorts and helmets the first two days. They'll take Thursday off then add shoulder pads on Friday. The offensive linemen look forward to that change.
"You go hard every day, but you can't do some things without pads," Oxner said. "You probably go at them a little harder when you've got pads on. There are just some things an offensive linemen can't do without pads. We are looking forward to pads.
"Today went pretty well. We had some missed assignments here and there, but we pulled through it at the end, got together and got it done."
Weakside guard Mitch Petrus said there still could be several changes in the offensive line. He said everyone expected to see some different combinations tried in the early part of spring drills.
"They are trying to see who works best where," Petrus said. "This happens every spring. It's time to test things out. Come fall, you want to know where everyone is going to be. We are trying to rotate and see who can do what. Take people in and out. That's just part of it."
How did Petrus think the first two days went?
"Yesterday we had a pretty decent practice," he said. "We were a little rusty. We were fumbling the ball around at the start and had a couple of bad snaps but overall it was pretty good. Today we started out real bad, but ended it really good. At the end we had the first offensive line out there for I don't how many plays and we got to the point we were making a lot of good plays against the defense so we did real good today.
"We are moving in the right direction. Our goal is to keep going forward. We don't want to go one step forward and then one back and never really go anywhere. The first two days we are making gains. I think that is the whole team, not just the line.
"I think things are going well for us. We are a lot further ahead than we were last year. We are adding things each day, but they are a lot of the same things we did last year so it's not a lot new. We are just working hard to get our calls and communication down."
The periods continued to be spliced together with heavy work on special teams, including punt return work Wednesday featuring nice returns by both Jerrell Norton and Jarius Wright. the day ended with superb field goal kicking by Alex Tejada.
Andru Stewart, juco transfer at cornerback, did not practice and was on the sideline in jogging pants and T-shirt. It was confirmed that Stewart was not injured. He spent the workout conversing with defensive backs between their reps trying to learn the system.
There did not appear to be any injuries. Several players fought through cramps including London Crawford and Greg Childs.
Chris Gragg makes a catch.
Tim Horton puts Broderick Green through a drill.
Ryan Mallett hits a punt under the watch of Bobby Petrino.
Paul Petrino works with the wideouts.
Jarius Wright makes a cut after the catch.
Photos by Marc F. Henning, Hawgs Illustrated