Arkansas may have practiced two days already this spring, but for middle linebacker Jermaine Love the real action begins Friday. That's when full pads are donned.
"We are getting a day off Thursday and then we get after it," Love said after Wednesday's padless workout.
"You know for us linebackers, that's like a holiday -- putting on the pads is that special. We love it."
Love is getting a shot at winning the middle linebacker job after the graduation of Wendel Davis, the starter for most of the last three seasons.
"I think you see a whole new mindset from Jermaine," said Willy Robinson, the defensive coordinator. "You see a different attitude when someone is in the number one slot as compared to being third or fourth. You get more reps. You get more time and then your confidence grows. He's coming to work with a whole different attitude."
Love is ahead of sophomore Terrell Williams and freshman Austin Moss, both a part of the Class of 2009, on the depth chart. Head coach Bobby Petrino said in his pre-spring media briefing that Love had earned a shot at the first team job with a great winter.
"I did have a good winter, but with this head coach you aren't going to be given something," Love said. "I'm going to have to earn it every day. It's going to be about competition this spring and the only way I'm going to get to stay there is by hard work. That's what he's going to look for every day from every position on the field."
The work put in the last two days is important, Love said, but not as important as what will take place when the pads are added.
"We have something to prove at linebacker this spring," he said. "Not just me, all of us. I don't think we've really hit the way you are supposed to hit the last couple of years. I think this set of linebackers is going to strive to really strike you. We want to be better hitters."
Petrino said Love's shown in meeting rooms that he has gone to a different level as far as knowledge of the scheme. That's been his weakness in the past.
"I set my mind to getting better in the offseason," Love said. "I decided to do extra film study, extra study at night. The coaches don't know it, but my playbook has stuff written all through it. I've taken it on myself to mark it and make it something that is a great study guide for my nights. I have been coming in early to watch film, but the real work has been at night with that playbook. It's like a notebook, with special sayings to me to help me learn it all the way through it.
"I haven't let them see it yet, what I've done to learn it. I may show it to them at some point. But it's stuff that has helped me get prepared for this spring. That playbook, really my notebook now, is full with handwritten notes. That's how it all clicked for me."
Teammate Isaac Madison, perhaps the team's best cover cornerback and a defensive leader, sees the difference in Love. He's close to the middle linebacker since both are Dallas-area products.
"We've always been close," Madison said. "I'm probably as close to Love as anyone on this team.
"I think you are going to really see something from him when we put on the pads. He's ready to explode. What you saw him do in the weight room this winter was pretty much beast-like. I don't think there's anyone in the linebacker group that's close to him. He turned into a monster.
"And he's ready. I see it every day. He's been talking to me about getting the pads on. He's saying it over and over, 'I'm ready to bang.' That's what he is on this team, a banger. I think you are going to see some thunder from him."
If Love brings the thunder, Madison might bring lighting. He did for the most part on Wednesday. He made three or four plays in the passing game, knocking away passes and providing tight coverage from his field cornerback slot despite a knee brace that is protecting his knee repaired in August.
"I'm ready to toss that thing aside," Madison said. "But the doctors, coaches and trainers say it's going to be necessary a bit longer. I'm going to try to be patient. I don't see that I need it, but I'll listen. I guess I got to wear it for now."
Madison said he wasn't sure how he would perform before the start of spring. But he's getting his confidence back in a hurry.
"I didn't know how it would go," he said. "Then I watched film of the first day and that really gave me some confidence. It went pretty good. So the second day, today, was even better. I am a lot more comfortable today."
Madison will have to watch when the contact starts.
"They said I'd be held out of the contact until maybe the game to end spring," he said. "I guess that's when they are going to let me off the leash a little bit, maybe a couple of series for the game.
"But I've enjoyed it a lot so far. It's great to be back with the guys competing. That's what football is all about, competing. I just hope I do get into the game. I need to hit someone at some point."
Robinson wants to make sure Madison doesn't do too much too soon.
"When we lost Isaac last August, that really hurt (the defense)," he said. "He really has done a great job these first two days. We have tried not to press him too much just yet and that's going to be difficult to keep him out of some things. We just try to talk to him every day and find out what percentage he might be at and then make decisions on what he can do. So far it's working out."
Robinson is looking forward to seeing how the rest of the secondary performs when the pads are added Friday. Free safety Anthony Leon drew praise after Wednesday's practice.
"Juice (Leon) has done an extremely good job of communicating and getting things right at safety," Robinson said. "He's a very humble and quiet person so it's hard on him to do the talking back there, but he's done it the first two days. It will be interesting to see if he can continue to do that when we put the pads on and continue to play fast like he's done the first two days."
Robinson will be interested to see if the defense can begin to eliminate the big plays, the main problem the last two seasons.
"We are looking to see if we can get more people full speed to the ball," he said. "We want to do that and not give up the big plays. I think this defense is faster. Now we need to see if we can improve that area."
Wednesday Grid Update, 3/31
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