The first day of spring drills Tuesday looked like the first day of spring drills to Bobby Petrino. The Arkansas head coach thought the team was a little sloppy. He didn't think they threw and caught the ball particularly well, but attributed that to being outside on a windy day for the first time after working on their own in Walker Pavilion.
The Hogs opened year three under Petrino with a brisk workout on a 70-degree day on the practice fields. They were in helmets and no pads Tuesday, the same as they'll be Wednesday. They will take Thursday off before putting on full pads for the first time Friday.
Petrino did praise Tyler Wilson, the No. 1 quarterback with Ryan Mallett injured, for a good day of leading the team. He said there were a couple of instances of fumbled snaps, but he didn't think they were Wilson's fault.
Ryan Mallett will miss the spring with a broken foot. He was at practice in a protective boot. He did take some snaps in the pre-practice warmups when the quarterbacks and centers were working on the shotgun formation.
The team looked at some new plays out of The Pistol formation, called the "Shot" in the Arkansas terminology. Included in the new plays as added by new offensive line coach Chris Klenakis was some "read option" action. Petrino said that it isn't something that would be used with Ryan Mallett at quarterback. In fact, he said it might be in the spring list of plays more to help the defense practice against the option.
Petrino noted that the defense had not seen much read option when Mississippi State hit it hard in the second half late in the season and there are times that the offense needs to show the defense some looks. He said there are some other times when the defense needs to show some looks for the offense in preparation of the season.
Tyler Wilson called the offense "sloppy," too. He said it wasn't just one thing and he expects it to improve. He said he didn't want to blame it on the wind.
"We'll get better," Wilson said. "I'm not going to say it's the wind. We just were sloppy. I'll put it on the first day. We've got to improve on that and we will, I think."
Tight end D. J. Williams said the offense took a little heat from the coaches after the practice.
"They got after us for the way we practiced," Williams said. "They should have. We can do better than that. I suspect you'll see a lot of improvement in the next practice."
Petrino praised the defense for the speed of their play in the first practice, but noted that it wasn't in pads.
"I think you can tell a little more when we put on full pads on Friday," he said. "I did like the way we practiced today on defense. You can tell we are faster and we know where to be on defense."
Overall, Petrino said, "It's fun to be back. It's fun to see the experience we have from the last two years. We have a lot of guys who know what they are doing. Today was only helmets and there was a lot of teaching going on, but I thought the concentration to the teaching and the effort was both good."
Petrino said some of the teaching on Tuesday was in regards to "new things" brought to the staff by Klenakis, Steve Caldwell and Kris Cinkovich. Klenakis coaches the offensive line, Caldwell is the new defensive end coach and Cinkovich is the new wideout coach.
"Our new coaches have all brought some things," he said. "I want them to give us new ideas. We'll look at them this spring and then we'll decide what we'll keep. I think there are some new things that I like. We'll see how they work."
Wilson said it's obvious Klenakis has some great ideas in the running game.
"You can see what he is bringing and it's going to help us," Wilson said. "He's an expert in the running game. It's going to be good for us."
Petrino said Wilson showed leadership by returning to campus early on spring break, well ahead of their Sunday night meetings.
"He has done a nice job and he came back early to get some snaps with Seth Oxner ahead of our practices," Petrino said. "He did good today and he's well ahead of the other quarterbacks."
Isaac Madison, returning from knee surgery, went through all aspects of the practice, but Petrino said he won't go through contact for the first part of spring drills.
"I thought he looked good," Petrino said. "He's got a brace on and he's not going to have contact in our first three weeks. We'll evaluate him after that and maybe he could get a couple of series (in the spring game)."
Petrino also liked what he saw of Chris Gragg. The sophomore tight end is coming off surgery for a dislocated ankle.
"He's big and fast," Petrino said. "I thought he looked good out there today. He can really help us at tight end."
There is good depth at tight end with D. J. Williams, Ben Cleveland and Gragg.
"We call ourselves the dog pound," Williams said. "We want to be the best tight end group in the country. We've added names. Gragg is the great dane. He's so lanky and big. Ben is a German Shephard. He can be cute and cuddly, but he'll bite you. I'm the mutt, since I'm mixed. We are still thinking about a name for Austin Tate.
"We are having a lot of fun. It's just competition each day."
That's what Petrino sees at a lot of places. He was asked about the battle behind Oxner at center between redshirt freshmen Travis Swanson and Colby Berna.
"You can't really say anything about either one of them yet," Petrino said. "You like them both, but you need to see how they do when we put on pads. That's when you can tell."
It's like that at other spots, too.
"We've got four very talented running backs," Petrino said. "You can't really say much about them until we start hitting. That's when you know. We are looking to see who steps up. Michael Smith gave us a lot of leadership there and we think we have four very good ones. But it's wait and see right now to tell who is going to be the leader of that group."
Anthony Leon worked with the first team at free (or open) safety. He's carrying more muscle on his 228-pound frame.
"I'm at a career low in body fat at 10 percent," Leon said. "I'm much stronger and in much better shape. But where I'm better by far is knowledge of the system. I know my keys, my reads and the calls. I had to have a lot of help from others as far as getting lined up last year. I know it now. That's important, but my conditioning is so much better, too.
"I'm looking forward to getting on the pads later this week. That's when you show what you can do.
"I think our chemistry in our secondary is better. I think we are all more comfortable in the system and with each other. I think there is a lot more confidence in that part of our defense this spring."
Asked if there were any youngsters catching his eye, Leon said, "Without doubt, it's Lance Ray. That guy has shown us that he can really be explosive. I think he's one of the young ones you are going to see step up this spring."
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