Arkansas football players went through a lighter workout Friday in preparation for a Saturday morning scrimmage inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino was in rare form - both with his intensity and colorfulness during the 90-minute workout in shorts and shoulder pads. He didn't spare the players or his assistant coaches in his pursuit of perfection in the shorts and shoulder pads workout inside the stadium. The short practice - with no afternoon one - allowed the players to rest up for what is expected to be an extended scrimmage.
The players did have one other thing to tend to Friday afternoon, however, at the Razorback Kickoff Luncheon at the Holiday Inn Convention Center up the road in Springdale. Arkansas coaches and all 105 players attended the event with Petrino and Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long speaking to the crowd of nearly 1,000 fans.
Petrino said leading up to the weekend scrimmage, depth has been the biggest key in improvement during the summer workouts that began last week.
"That's really what it's all about is competition," Petrino told the crowd. "Competition makes everybody better. We have so many returning players and guys with experience that played last year. We had a good recruiting class and some guys that redshirted and now are eligible to play, so we have competition every day in practice. That will make every single one of us better.
"We'll need depth. We have what I think is one of the most unique schedules in the country in the fact that we have our opening game Sept. 5 in Little Rock and then we have a bye and play 11-straight. We'll have to be very well-conditioned and have great depth so that we can continue to play all 11 games strong.
"I think our players understand that even though there's competition and that guy is competing for my job, I'm going to help him out."
Petrino commended the senior leaders for their work in helping develop younger players through the practices, notably running back Michael Smith.
"He's done a great job helping our young running backs learn the offense," Petrino said. "He has enough confidenced that he's going to play and he gets his reps in, but still wants to help them learn. That will make us a stronger team as we get into the middle of the schedule.
"Then when a player has an injury someone else will step up and we can't miss a beat when that happens."
The depth is key as several Razorbacks continue to struggle with injuries in the preseason.
Injured players missing work Friday included fullback Mitchell Bailey, defensive tackle Lavunce Askew, wide receiver Lucas Miller, offensive lineman Ray Dominquez and freshman offensive lineman Colby Berna, who goes through drills, but not contact as he continues to strengthen his shoulder after surgery last spring.
Offensive tackle Demarcus Love and tight end D.J. Williams were back in team work this morning. Love had missed a pair of practices earlier in the week with a knee injury and had gone through drills but not contact Thursday.
Williams – a Mackey Award candidate for the nation's top tight end – returned after missing three practices with an injured ankle. Williams had several fine catches as did London Crawford, Jarius Wright and Joe Adams as the offense continued a fine week of drills. Despite the improvement, there were drops, false starts and other mistakes that drew the coach's ire.
In fact, Ben Cleveland, working with the second team offense, was told to hit the showers by the head coach about midway through practice.
ESPN analyst and Arkansas graduate Jimmy Dykes emceed the afternoon's event after taking in practices Wednesday and Thursday. The color commentator for the Razorbacks' season-opener with Missouri State said he has been impressed with the progression of the players from year one to year two of Petrino's tenure.
"Overall they're bigger and they're faster and they're stronger," Dykes said. "They look more like a top quality SEC team as far as the eye test. I tell people al the time that I don't know how good this team will be but I know they'll get the best out of their ability because Bobby Petrino is the head coach.
"I like their depth. I like their chemistry; they seem to be very together. A lot of people say, ‘Yeah, they're working extremely hard,' but they really are working extremely hard. I think it has the potential to be a great year for Razorback fans."
Dudley Dawson contributed to this report.
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