Arkansas sophomore wide receiver Cobi Hamilton produced the big plays in Saturday's scrimmage, using his size and soft hands to haul in the deep pass on the sideline as the Hogs went live for about 100 plays in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. It was day four of spring drills.
The first scrimmage -- labeled half practice and half scrimmage by head coach Bobby Petrino -- featured a couple of heated exchanges between offense and defense and included a 20-play conclusion of all running plays.
Petrino said he was especially pleased with the focus in the first half of practice, drills and half-line scrimmage situations where focus and concentration was good and technique held solid.
"What you see early in spring is that you are doing a lot of installations and work on technique on the first couple of days, then you put on full pads as we did Friday and the technique doesn't hold up," he said. "That happened a little Friday. I'll be interested to put in the video and see if we were better with that today."
Cobi Hamilton led the team in receiving with four catches for 150 yards and three touchdowns. His touchdowns came from distances of 32, 59 and 19 yards.
Here are some unofficial numbers as far as offensive production in the scrimmage:
Quarterbacks -- Tyler Wilson 9 of 15 for 160 yards with 1 TD,
Brandon Mitchell 7 of 10, 111 yards, pair of TDs,
Nick Petrino 8 of 9, 112 yards, 2 TDs, and
Jacoby Walker, 3 of 5, 37 yards.
Leading rushers -- Dennis Johnson 9-76,
Knile Davis 10-24, 1 TD,
Broderick Green 10-38, 1 TD,
Ronnie Wingo 7-13, 1 TD,
De'Anthony Curtis 2-20,
Mitchell Bailey 5-16.
Receivers -- Cobi Hamilton 4-150, 3 TDs,
Chris Gragg 3-23,
Greg Childs 3-45, 1 TD,
De'Anthony Curtis 2-20,
Joe Adams 2-56,
Jarius Wright 2-57,
D.J. Williams 2- 13, TD,
Ronnie Wingo 2-10,
Mitchell Bailey 2-5,
Broderick Green 1-12,
Bobby Petrino said the news is good on Wade Grayson. The senior offensive guard went down Friday with what appeared to be a serious knee injury. The results of the MRI show that it's a sprain to the medial collateral ligament. While that means Grayson will miss the rest of spring, it's probably still best case scenario. He will not need surgery and should be fine for summer workouts.
Hamilton turned heads -- and held off defensive backs -- on several long passes to draw praise from both Petrino and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee.
"Cobi has had a great offseason," Petrino said. "And for the first week of spring ball, he's been impressive. He got in his work in the weight room in the offseason and then went to track. He did a nice job of catching the ball. He has the best hands on this team."
McGee said, "We talked about him stepping up today because as you could see both Joe Adams and Greg Childs have a few injuries. Cobi did that." Adams and Childs both participated in the practice, but had a limp. Lance Ray, redshirt freshman wideout, opened the practice with a limp, too, and quickly retired to the sidelines.
Petrino said he was pleased with the day.
"It was a lot of fun," he said. "I enjoyed it. I was impressed with the way we practiced leading up to the scrimmage. It is important to me and the coaches to get a lot done in that portion of the practice and I thought we did.
"One of the things we wanted to do this spring is get all four of the quarterbacks a lot of repetitions. We did that. They all did some good things. We made mistakes, but we are learning.
"Then, at the end we wanted to run the ball. We wanted to see if we could run the ball and if we could stop the run when we were tired."
It appeared the offense won that area at the end, putting together a couple of long drives featuring the run. Obviously, that pleased new offensive line coach Chris Klenakis.
"We did some good things and I'm sure we missed some things, too," he said. "But first and foremost, what I liked about today was the effort and attitude of our players. We got after it. That's what I was looking for. The intensity was good."
Klenakis said he'd have to grade video before he could say much about individual performances, but he saw some bright spots. When asked about youngsters Alvin Bailey, taking over Grayson, and Anthony Oden, he said, "They both had some things that I saw that they did well. What I know about Alvin is he's going to get better with the work he's going to get. We ran well behind him some today. And Oden had at least a couple of plays where he got a lot of movement and we went behind him. He had a play on the goal line that he caved in the backside and the back cut to that area for (a touchdown)."
Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson wasn't pleased.
"First, we still gave up some long passes," he said. "We had one where we got distracted and busted an assignment. That one was a safety. That shouldn't happen. They have to maintain their discipline and know assignments. We still have a ways to go there from seeing that play.
"I thought our tackling was solid. We played hard. We had one corner, Ramon Broadway, make a couple of plays on the deep pass, but the rest didn't. We gave up too many plays. You'd hope that they would see the way Ramon focused and ripped through the ball, that the others could learn that and it be contagious.
"Then at the end, I didn't think we had toughness. It was about just stopping the run. I thought we did well against the run in some areas today, but in the end when we were all tired, we didn't bring it. When you are tired and it's the end of the day, then that's about heart. I just didn't see that we had that today. That was one of the major emphasis in today's practice, how we were going to play in that run period at the end."
Petrino praised the defense for the middle part of the practice.
"What we did today was start out in base on defense," he said. "That was when the offense made some plays. Then, we mixed in some calls (on defense) and we made a few more plays. Then the third part of the day, there were quite a few more blitzes and more calls. Then, it was a free period, where the defense could do anything it wanted. That's when they did the best. But we have to play better when we just have seven up front."
Robinson said, "That is exactly right. I think we are better when we are aggressive and bring some heat. But that can be a real problem because you leave yourself open and there is a lot of risk. You would hope that you could just play some in base, win some battles with fundamentals and technique. That's where we are striving to get. We aren't there yet."
Both Petrino and Robinson praised defensive end Jake Bequette. Petrino said there would have been two Bequette sacks had the quarterbacks been live. Bequette touched the quarterbacks several times and kept on running so the QBs could complete passes down the field.
"We don't call those dead, but in games they would have been sacks," Petrino said. "We just want to see what the quarterback could do to finish out the play. Jake made those plays, though."
Robinson said, "Bequette stands out from what I saw today. He has stepped up as a leader and taken ownership. He'll say things in the huddle. He will get people in the right frame of mind. I think he made some plays today on the edge. I thought Jermaine Love is like that, too. He's a physical force in the middle. I saw him do some things as far as contact."
Petrino praised all of the running backs, but he said Dennis Johnson has stepped up as a leader. Johnson topped all rushers with 76 yards on seven carries, including a 5-yard TD run.
"We had some points (Friday) where we were struggling and things weren't going well and he was the guy who stepped up as a leader in the huddle and got things going," Petrino said. "It's clear that he's done a lot to learn this offense. I like what I've seen from him. He's a nice change of pace as far as his running style."
Overall, Petrino said the deep passing game was better.
"We threw it deep well," he said. "That's where we struggled the first two days and we decided we needed to work harder in that area the last two days. We got better. I thought the receivers pressed over the top and that helped us."
Petrino also praised converted wide receiver De'Anthony Curtis for solid catches and runs.
"He really did (have a nice day)," Petrino said. "He's got great hands. He's doing a better job of coming off the ball and getting into his routes. We are working to lengthen his strides. He's played a role every year he's been here. No question he had a good day."
Asked about other individual performances, Petrino said, "I thought both safetyies, (Anthony) Leon and (Tramain) Thomas, tackled well. I am happy with what Darius Winston has done. He's getting better."
How have the installations gone?
"We put in a lot the first three days," he said. "Today, we only put in one run and one (defensive) call. We wanted to see them just focus on it being a scrimmage instead of installation. I year ago we had to cut back because they couldn't handle it all. But we are right on track. We've gotten our installations done. I thought yesterday was a little sloppy, but it was better today."
There were two minor scuffles during the scrimmage, one of them after D. J. Williams scored a touchdown. Petrino said he likes intensity, but not in that manner. He said that will stop.
"We had some fun in our bowl practices," he said. "I guess (the players) didn't understand that all of that stopped after the bowl. It's all over.
"We can't have that. Something like that can really cost the team. It's going to stop. And when you score a touchdown, you need to hand the ball to the official. That will be corrected."
It's clear Petrino means business. One of the best defenders found out what he means when he says he wants steady improvement in the weight room from season to season.
Linebacker Jerry Franklin has stepped out of practice after the individual work in all four spring workouts, including the first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. Franklin is a returning starter and was voted captain last fall, but Petrino said Franklin "has to get some things done in the weight room." Apparently, Franklin's tests late in winter weight lifting were not as good as the levels he hit the previous year.
"If he gets done what he needs, then he can come back out here," Petrino said. "He has work to do."
Asked if he had ever taken a starter out of the lineup and out of spring drills to concentrate on weight lifting, Petrino said, "Yes. I've done it for that (weight lifting) and I've done it for academics. We want to make sure they are doing what they need to do."
Alvin Bailey stepped in at guard with the first team.
Anthony Oden makes plays at offensive tackle.
Darius Winston drew some praise from the head coach.
Dennis Johnson was the leading ball carrier in the scrimmage.
Photos by Marc F. Henning, Hawgs Illustrated
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