"It's like night and day since last year," said Jarius Wright, wide receiver. "I think the key is how hard we've worked to prepare for this season. What we've done hasn't seen so hard with these first practices because we did so well this summer in preparation. I expected it to be hard, but it hasn't been. It's because we were ready for it."
"We started 30 minutes early this morning to beat the heat a little bit," Petrino said. "We'd had two very physical practices in the heat, so we decided to go inside this afternoon."
Petrino did open his media session with a chuckle about the intense heat that has settled in during this fall camp. He had hoped for some hotter conditions than last year when August temperatures stayed in the low to mid 80s.
"They always say to be careful what you wish for," he said. "It's been really hot."
Wright said the team had no idea that the afternoon practice was scheduled for Walker Pavilion.
"We don't ever really think about where we are going to be," he said. "I think we just come out and look to see where our stuff is laying. If there is gear on the game field, we know that's it. If it's not there, then we know we are on the practice field. Today we got to the practice field and that's when we realized we were going inside.
"It's still hot inside. Very humid, too. But after you go through the stretch and break a sweat, it feels really good."
Petrino was asked if the heat contributed to more assignment errors. He said it hadn't.
"I don't think we've seen more assignment errors," he said, noting the ones he's noticed have been when the threes have been sprinkled in with the twos. He said the ones and most of the twos have been sharp.
"We've been executing extremely well," he said, noting later that it's been clear that the knowledge of the system and schemes and the understanding of what the other side of the ball has been doing is much improved over his first two years.
Petrino said the addition of pads in the last couple of days have confirmed what he thought in the spring, that the team has become more physical. He said it's been an even battle between offensive and defensive lines. He said the offensive line has been working on its run blocking and the defense has worked hard on gap control. He said both sides have improved.
"We are more physical (on defense) at holding the point of attack," he said. "We gave up some things today on the perimeter and there were some plays our backs made on cutbacks.
"We still are trying to find our personality and what we do best. That's what camp is for. But the players understand the scheme."
The competition in special teams has been as hot as the Ozark weather. Alex Tejada and Eddie Camara have had a nice duel and Petrino said it would continue throughout camp. He said Dylan Breeding has been the leader in the punting race. He also said it appears some veterans are stepping forward in the punt return battle.
"We've got three vets who decided they want that job," he said. "Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Dennis Johnson have done well there the last couple of practices."
If there is an area that Petrino has mentioned as a concern, it's been linebacker play.
"We will be competing there throughout camp," he said. "Jerry Franklin does a nice job of getting everyone lined up correctly. Freddy Burton has some experience and Jerrico Nelson is a great leader by example. You know what you are going to get every play."
It's clear to the head coach that the secondary is faster. He noted the improved speed and the conditioning that has enabled Anthony Leon to get more snaps.
"I like what our defensive front has done," he said. "We have great depth there. We are bigger and faster. It will be interesting to see who contributes. We've got a couple young guys who are very capable, physically, of getting it done. Linebackers are going to be competing throughout. In the secondary, I continue to believe we are much faster than we were a year ago."
The Hogs continue to shuffle the lineup in the offensive line. Travis Swanson got a lot of work with the ones at center, but Petrino said it's too early to read too much into some of the moves.
"We have non-stop competition (at center)," he said. "Don't get too caught up in who is with the ones and the twos. This is the time to look at combinations. You want to see how players react beside each other and make sure that if you have to make a move (because of injury) in the season they've played some with different guys.
"The goal is to get the best five on the field (in the offensive line). We want to get everyone evaluated and then make those decisions."
The Hogs haven't scrimmaged yet and may not until Saturday. However, there may be some limited live situations Wednesday morning. The Hogs have only one practice scheduled on Wednesday. Several players said they are looking forward to the first scrimmage.
"That's going to be a big day," said Dennis Johnson, running back. "I know our running back group is looking to Saturday. It's going to be good for us as a group. We want to keep improving and get better. We also are excited to see how the young ones handle it. We need some help from that group and that will be a good indication about what they can do to help us."
Johnson said he's getting to like The Pistol formation, or the Shot, as its called in the Arkansas offense.
"I think it's good, just wonderful," he said. "It helps you set up your cuts. You see things nice and clear. We are getting better and better out of it. That's one of my favorite formations."
Don't expect the Hogs to abandon the pass. No one believes that, with quarterback Ryan Mallett and a cast of top receivers. Junior Joe Adams sees Mallett continues to amaze with his arm, leadership and knowledge of the offense.
"Ryan is still Ryan," Adams said. "He can throw it so hard and he is still like an extra coach out there."
There has been talk of the group of top notch wide receivers leading the team, a so called "big four" with Greg Childs, Cobi Hamilton, Wright and Adams. De'Anthony Curtis and Lance Ray continue to sparkle in camp, too.
"I know those are the big four, but I'm ready to step in to make it a big five," Curtis said. "I've worked hard on my stride. It's longer and I still want to lengthen it some more. I've watched myself on film and I can tell it's stretched out some. But I know I can make it look faster."
Curtis has dropped weight (about 10 pounds lighter at 212) from last year.
"I know I have a role," he said. "Coach told me to be ready on third downs in the spring and that the ball was going to come my way a lot in conversions. He told me to go make a play a bunch of times. I think I can do more than that, too. I think I'm quicker and my routes have gotten better over the summer."
The Hogs remain relatively healthy. Two members of the freshman class are perhaps injured and out at least temporarily -- LaCraig Brown, Denton Simek and Brad Hefley. Damario Ambrose and Jeremiah Jackson did not practice, but were on the sideline in partial uniforms, but without helmets. Those two players had perhaps lost too much weight between practices.