FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt had his squad up before the sun on Wednesday as the Hogs worked in shorts and helmets in the second practice of the spring. The Razorbacks hit the field at 5 a.m. and practiced for just more than two hours in the final practice before spring break. Arkansas kicked off spring practice with a 5:30 a.m. workout on Tuesday.
“I’m just really proud of them for the second straight day to come in this early and move around with a lot of intensity,” Nutt said. “There is a real eagerness to learn. Again for the second straight day, I thought our throwing and catching was much, much better. I think (Marcus) Monk looks a lot better. The off-season for him has done wonders. I think he is so much quicker once he catches the football. We have a lot to learn and a ways to go, but I just like where we are right now.”
Nutt also praised wide receivers Robert Johnson, London Crawford and Andrew Norman for their efforts in Tuesday’s workout. Johnson is in his first full spring as a wide receiver. Crawford showed flashes of his potential last season while Norman is getting his first true look after redshirting last season.
Another offensive player turning heads this spring is fullback Peyton Hillis. The Conway, Ark., product was sidelined for much of the second half of the 2006 season with a deep thigh bruise. Hillis appears to be healthy and has logged two solid workouts in a row.
“It makes all the difference in the world (when his is healthy),” Nutt said. “He makes all the difference in the world. He is really a mismatch. You can move him around. You can tell those last few games last year, we really missed him. He has had an excellent two practices. We just want to keep on the field and keep him healthy. I just got through telling him that this morning. Stay on the field, we need you. Boy, he looks good.”
On the opposite side of the ball, Arkansas is spending the spring attempting to fill the void of a bevy of departed starters, including defensive end Jamaal Anderson, cornerback Chris Houston, linebacker Sam Olajubutu and defensive tackle Keith Jackson. Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring has made some personnel changes to help address those needs. Matt Hewitt has moved back to strong safety after playing linebacker last season while Jerrell Norton has been moved to help bolster a thin cornerback rotation.
“We have lost some very important characters in our defense, some very productive players on our defense including our best linebacker, our best pass rusher and our best cover guy,” Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring said. “We have some challenges ahead of us and some tremendous holes to fill. We are working with different combinations. Jobs are wide open. It is going to be a work in progress this spring. A lot of freshmen, redshirt freshmen and guys that haven’t been counted on before, we are turning the heat up on them and seeing how they perform under stressful conditions. We are a long way away defensively.”
The Razorbacks will wake up early again on Thursday for conditioning, but won’t return to the practice field until after spring break. Arkansas is tentatively slated to resume spring practice on Monday, March 26. The culmination of spring practice will come on April 14 with the annual Red-White game at 6 p.m. in Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The day will be filled with activities including Razorback Fan Appreciation Day from 10 a.m. – Noon and EAS RazorFest from Noon – 7:30 p.m. More details on the weekend will be released in the coming weeks.