Arkansas Spring Football Preview Series – Part
BY ANDRES FOCIL
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas’ spring football practice is almost a week old. The Hogs took the field for the first time on Monday and will conclude workouts on April 16. Throughout the week, Hogwired.com has featured a five-part series previewing the Razorbacks position-by-position. In the final installment of the series, Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt considers
SECONDARY: On-the-job training can be difficult in the SEC, especially when you make your home in the defensive secondary. Arkansas found that to be true last season, but for the Razorbacks’ talented and now experienced group of cornerbacks and safeties, that baptism by fire may be the spark to continued improvement in 2005.
Juniors Michael Coe and John Johnson are set to man the left cornerback spot along with sophomore Matterral Richardson. Coe started the first six games at that position last season before a strained thigh sidelined him for a majority of the remainder of the campaign. Johnson is making the move to cornerback after manning the hybrid wolf linebacker spot in 2004. Richardson appeared in 10 of the Hogs’ 11 games earning most of his playing time on special teams. Sophomore Chris Houston will also contend for the starting spot in the fall. He started the final four games of last season, but will miss spring practice due to injury.
Senior Darius Vinnett opens the spring as the starter at right cornerback. A junior college transfer, Vinnett made every start at that position last season racking up 54 tackles in the process. Sophomore Michael Grant will also figure in the equation, although his spring practice status is still up in the air. Grant also competes in track and field for the Hogs and will try to tailor some gridiron work around the outdoor track and field season. Redshirt freshman Shedrick Johnson will likely pick up Grant’s spring practice snaps.
“Again as young as they were last year, they made a lot of baby mistakes,” Nutt says. “They will be that much better this fall. I’m excited about (Darius) Vinnett and guys like Matterral Richardson and Michael Grant. Shedrick Johnson is a very athletic guy that is going to get a lot of reps. Michael Coe and John Johnson are also athletic. It is going to be – who is going to execute the best? Who is going to be physical? Who is going to be able to defend? It is going to be a good race there. We have some good numbers.”
Senior Vickiel Vaughn will be the Hogs’ leader in the secondary for the second straight season. Vaughn opened at free safety at 2004, but made the switch to strong safety late in the campaign. He will stay in that role this spring. Last season, he led the Hogs with 66 tackles and two interceptions. Backing Vaughn will be sophomores Dallas Washington and Kevin Woods. Both players saw some opportunities last season, but will figure even more into the plans in 2005.
“Vickiel (Vaughn) is probably our best and most instinctive player,” Nutt says. “He has very good hands. He played wide receiver in high school. We are looking for his leadership. He has shown signs of greatness. He just has to keep coming and get better. Dallas Washington is another guy that is very athletic and did some good things last year as a true freshman. We expect him to have a good spring. He is one of those guys that can run all day.”
Vaughn’s late-season move to strong safety cleared the way for Randy Kelly to establish himself at free safety. Kelly started a total of four games at that position a year ago and the junior is once again listed there heading into the spring. Redshirt freshman Rick Culbert practiced at outside linebacker last season, but will now spend his time battling for snaps at free safety. Kelly will have to fend off a challenge from senior Lerinezo Robinson. Robinson was a starter for a portion of the 2004 season at strong safety, but may miss time this spring while recovering from a shoulder injury.
“Randy Kelly is a guy that has put on 10 pounds since he got here,” Nutt says. “I’m anxious to see how he responds to this new system. He has looked good so far. Lerinezo (Robinson) has been hurt a little bit. Hopefully we can get him out of the training room and get him on the field.”
SPECIAL TEAMS: For the second straight season, Arkansas has the luxury of returning its placekicker, punter and deep snapper. Senior Chris Balseiro was utilized sparingly last season, but did connect on four of seven field goal attempts. Junior Rusty McEntire will be waiting in the wings for a chance at placement kicks and may very well be the Razorbacks’ kickoff specialist.
Junior Jacob Skinner began the season as the Hogs’ top punter, but inconsistency plagued the Texarkana, Texas, native. Sophomore Jeremy Davis took over punting duties for the second half of the season, averaging 39.2 yards per kick. Both punters return for 2005 and will begin competition for the starting role this spring.
Junior Brett Goode is slated to handle snapping duties for the third straight season. Skinner will likely get the first opportunity to land a job as the Hogs’ holder for extra points and field goals.
“Chris Balseiro is a guy that has gotten better and better. I think our team has started to believe in him. He has been more consistent for us. (Jacob) Skinner started out well at the beginning of the year and then had some consistency problems. Jeremy Davis came in the last four or five games and did a good job. I think both of them need to improve. They both need to get better.”
ARKANSAS WILL CONCLUDE SPRING FOOTBALL PRACTICE WITH THE ANNUAL SPRING SCRIMMAGE AT 11:30 A.M. ON APRIL 16, 2005, AT DONALD W. REYNOLDS RAZORBACK STADIUM.
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