FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The Arkansas football team practiced in full pads for the first time during spring practice on Saturday and according to each coordinator, the Razorbacks continued making progress.The team worked outside in Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium for about two hours and plans to do so again Sunday at 10:30 a.m. with a short situational scrimmage mixed in.
“I thought there were some good things,” offensive coordinator and receivers coach Paul Petrino said. “There were some guys showing some courage and toughness. Obviously we can always get better every day, but there were a lot of things to be encouraged about.”
“We figured the contact would be questionable and suspect,” defensive coordinator and safeties coach Willy Robinson said. “I don’t think we attacked the line of scrimmage, which was a goal Coach (Bobby Petrino) set for us on defense. I think we were catching too much, but I thought we were getting enough hats to the ball. If we can get it figured out about winning at the line of scrimmage, we’ll be fine. Everybody is on the same learning curve right now, but as a group, from day one to day three, I feel when we go in there and watch the practice tape that we will see considerable improvement from the day before.”
After three days of practice, including two in helmets and shorts, Petrino says three-eighths of the playbook has been put in.
“We break the (playbook) into eight sections and insert an eighth of it each day,” he said. “After eight days, we start over. We are hopefully a balanced offense and I think they are starting to pick it up. What they haven’t had to do much is go from one run to another run or in the passing game change protections. That’s probably the biggest thing we have to keep working on.”
A major adjustment on defense is switching from man coverage to zone, but Robinson says his group is making progress as well.
“What the linebackers have done for us is give us a personality that we can identify and use to understand who might be a better cover guy and who might be a better pressure guy, and there are certain guys who stand out from the pressure aspect,” he said. “That’s a natural deal because that’s what they have been doing. Each day they are getting considerably better. That is huge for a linebacker going from a man defense and now trying to operate in space. It’s a lot harder than it looks. We made it look hard today.”
An area of concern entering spring was the secondary where Arkansas lost all four starters. Despite the lack of experience, Robinson has been encouraged by that group’s ability to learn the new defense.
“The fact they don’t have a lot of mental errors going on back there is encouraging,” he said. “I can remember going from one place to the next and you might have a page full of mental errors. That’s the thing that I’m really pleased about. I’m really seeing fewer and fewer mental errors each day. I think what that teaches us as coaches is that we have a group that we can continue to expand with, and that’s a great place to start. You have to be a thinker out there and able to operate in fractions of time. I think they are starting to understand that.”
On the other side of the ball, Petrino is leaning on senior All-American center Jonathan Luigs, the 2008 Rimington Trophy award winner, to set the tone.
“With that center, as good a player as he is, he makes all of our calls,” Petrino said. “That’s a big plus for us. He’s a leader and he helps direct everybody on where they are going. He leads by example, by how hard he plays and how hard he works.”
As for the passing game, Petrino singled out a few receivers while noting continued progress by the quarterbacks.
“After three days, (junior) London (Crawford) has probably had the best three days,” he said. “He’s been catching the ball well and attacking it. He and (sophomore) Marques (Wade) have done a good job outside, and (sophomore) Carlton (Salters) and (junior) Lucas (Miller) have done a pretty good job inside.
“All of the quarterbacks are working hard and competing, and are all improving,” he said. “(Senior) Casey (Dick) has done a good job in trying to pick up the offense. You can see (sophomore Ryan) Mallett’s talent. He has a big time arm. He needs to keep working on his feet. (Junior Alex) Mortensen has been working hard. He needs to keep working on being accurate. (Redshirt freshman) Nathan (Dick) needs to continue learning the offense. I think for all of them, it’s just learning the offense and getting into our checks faster and the tempo of the offense, but I think all of them are showing improvement on their accuracy.”