Arkansas Spring Football Preview Series – Part
BY ANDRES FOCIL
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas opens its spring football practice later this afternoon to officially kick off preparations for the 2005 season. Throughout the week, Hogwired.com will feature a five-part series previewing the Razorbacks position-by-position. In the first installment of the series, Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt talks about what his squad needs to accomplish in the 15 scheduled spring practices.
Arkansas’ spring practice is later than usual this year (March 28-April 16), but make no mistake Arkansas’ preparations for the 2005 season began in earnest months ago. An uncharacteristic premature ending to the 2004 season left the Hogs without a bowl game for the first time since Houston Nutt took over the reins of the Razorback program in time for the 1998 season.
After six-consecutive bowl games and six winning regular seasons, Arkansas came up one game short of a seventh postseason bid. Eager to start another lengthy bowl streak, the Razorbacks immediately returned to the weight room and started conditioning drills weeks earlier than ever before. It is a program-wide commitment that Nutt and his squad hope translates into a much busier Holiday season next time around.
“I felt that we had a sense of urgency even in that first week we lifted (weights),” Nutt says. “Usually we give the team a week off after LSU (the last regular season game), but we didn’t this time. We went right back to work the next day. It was a very different Christmas for us and everybody. It was one that we don’t want to get used to. We feel a sense of urgency as coaches and players that we want to get better and get back to our bowl ways.”
Although postseason goals provide off-season incentives for this Razorback team, Nutt knows that the road to success begins with steps of improvement in spring practice. Arkansas will hit the practice field 15 times before culminating the spring work with the annual Red-White Spring Game on April 16 at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Nutt says he is not worried about his players focusing on the matter at hand this spring. Intense off-season workouts and depth chart shakeups have ensured that no one will be resting on his laurels.
“I think they aren’t concerned with anything other than just getting by today,” Nutt says. “It is one day at a time. They are worried about the next workout and they are learning a new system on defense. I think we have made it a point that nobody’s job is secure. No ‘I’ve done it, I’ve made it.’ Nobody feels like that especially after a year when we didn’t finish the way we wanted to.”
Personifying the take nothing for granted mantra, new defensive coordinator Reggie Herring is busy transforming the Razorback defense both in the playbook and on the depth chart. Herring has installed an aggressive 4-3 defense that will feature a base formation with extensive movement at the snap. A number of position changes have been made to accommodate the new scheme and this spring will be the first opportunity to evaluate players at new locations on the field.
“I think starting out we are learning a new defense and a new scheme,” Nutt says. “I want us to get very comfortable with that. What we are trying to do is put the fastest and the most productive guys on the field. We made moves to be able to put them in a position where they can be a better player. You are just constantly trying to get your best people on the field. We will have even more moves as the spring goes along.”
Although the Hogs’ philosophy on the other side of the ball remains the same, the departure of arguably the most talented quarterback in school history will leave a sizable void in the Razorbacks’ offensive huddle. Matt Jones is busy wowing NFL scouts this spring while Arkansas has begun the process of finding its next signal caller.
“Offensively, of course everybody is going to be looking real hard at who is going to be the quarterback,” Nutt says. “We are going to do it at every position, but most eyes are going to be on the quarterback because for the first time in four years you don’t have a guy coming back that is going to be as we consider the starter with game-like experience. Naturally all eyes are right there.”
Quarterbacks won’t be the only players looking to make a mark in the Hogs’ three weeks worth of workouts. Spring practice will also be the first true audition for a number of Razorbacks that redshirted last season.
“We have some good redshirts that we want to take a look at this spring,” Nutt says. “It goes back to the same thing. We are going to ask a lot from these guys. We have already asked for a lot from these guys and they have given it to us. Now we expect them to keep doing it through the spring.
“They need to get better at learning their plays and their assignments. When you don’t have mental mistakes, foolish penalties and a lack of effort, that to me means you are building your team and you are getting better.”
ON TUESDAY, HOGWIRED.COM WILL TAKE A LOOK AT ARKANSAS’ LINEUP ON THE OFFENSIVE LINE, AT TIGHT END AND AT WIDE RECEIVER.
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