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UA Coach Houston Nutt Media Day Press Conferen

UA Coach Houston Nutt Media Day Press Conferen
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Following are comments from University of Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt made at a press conference during Wednesday’s Media Day activities in the Broyles Athletic Center.

“We’ve had two very good days (of practice) with our freshmen. They have good, solid families. Every year, you think ‘Boy, this is a good recruiting class.’ We feel like this is truly one of our best, if not the best. The speed, the character and everything we hoped for, after being around them the first two days in the dressing room, the cafeteria and on the field, we’re more excited than ever. They’ve been doing everything we’ve asked them to do. It’s going to be interesting over this next week. All our guys (veterans) reported (Tuesday). We had our first team meeting. The one thing that’s going to be a little different is, we’re still in school and school doesn’t end until Friday, so we’re going to finish school. We’re going to have our class at 6:30 or 6:45 (a.m.), meet with them a good hour and a half, send them to school and then come back and eat lunch. We have a few that don’t get out of class until 2:20, so we’ll basically have one-a-day practices. We’re still counting it as two-a-days because of the meetings and installations in the morning, then come back in the afternoon and practice. We still feel like we have enough time so that we’ll be okay. Everybody (veterans) came in on time and ready to go. Most of them spent just about all summer here. This was the year we told our true freshman to stay home and wait, but we couldn’t hold off a lot of these guys. A lot of guys were very anxious. This is probably the most true freshmen we’ve had come in during the summer. As many times as we tried to discourage a guy, like Shawn Andrews, he came up with another reason why he wanted to be here. He kept coming back to the statement ‘Coach, I’m a Razorback. Don’t you want us up there?’ Well, I do Shawn, but I want you up here Aug. 4, but we couldn’t talk him out of it. This summer has really helped him. He was up around 340. Just being out in the heat he lost a little weight and he’s had an outstanding camp.”

When will you work out in pads and when will you have a major scrimmage?

“We usually get into pads on the third day (with the full squad). The big scrimmage will be Aug. 18. We’ll have a big scrimmage that night.”

How are you getting your freshmen in the right positions?

“That’s exciting. It’s always fun to start placing these guys in positions. We’ll let them start out where they want to start out. As soon as we get going, the first few days, that’s when coaches will start jockeying and fighting for players. That’s why we do an offensive and a defensive day. That very first day was 20 minutes of offense and 20 minutes of defense. We let them start out where they want, but Decori Birmingham has already made a move. He was a running back/receiver/defensive back that wanted to start in the secondary but he sees the line is much shorter at receiver. He says ‘Coach I would love to play wide receiver. I’m a good wide receiver, just as good as I am at defensive back.’ I said go, get over there and go. Get in that line. He was excited about doing that. We’ll start moving people around soon.”

Who are the guys that coaches are fighting for?

“There are a few. We had to say (QB) Tavaris Jackson is off limits. A couple of the linebacker coaches want him over there. (QB) Matt Jones was a receiver. Coach (George) Pugh was kind of looking at him. We said hands off, those are quarterbacks and we’re going to keep them at quarterback. Guys like Decori is now a receiver, Marvin Jackson, Ahmad Carroll and Clarke Moore, these guys can go on either side of the ball.”

Is it fair to say this freshman class will make more of an immediate impact than your other classes?

“I don’t want to put too much on them right now. You’re seeing what we’ve been seeing. On the field athletically, you feel there’s no doubt there will be more of an impact, but you just don’t know. A lot of things can happen. We were feeling pretty good last year at this time and all of a sudden you get to the fourth game, you’re 3-0 but you’ve lost several players. You never know. The only thing you can hope for is that your guys stay healthy, they are in the right frame of mind and they give everything they have. We’re looking forward to it. Usually it’s four or five (who make an immediate impact) but it may be a few more.”

Do you have any comments on the returning players?

“I’m pumped because I know the price they’ve paid since January. Coach (Don) Decker has had a very good summer. It’s not easy to stay here year-round. It’s become a year-round sport. I remember playing for Coach (Frank) Broyles, two-a-days camp was basically to get you in shape. I feel like our guys are in pretty good shape. There’s probably 10 or 12 out of shape, but that’s a pretty good number if you consider there are 105 out here. Ten to 12 or 14 out of shape is pretty good. I’m excited about where we are. These guys look good. They have a good look in their eye and they’re anxious to get going.”

How is your punter doing?

“Richie Butler looks great. He looks really good. I haven’t seen him punt. All indications, from what people say, are that he looks great. I’m proud of his work ethic.”

What does the quarterback situation look like, especially with Zak Clark?

“Zak is a year older, just like Robby Hampton. Zak is healthy. He’s done a great job this summer. Last year, if you recall the South Carolina game, when I looked at him and said ‘Hey, it’s your time to play.’ He didn’t flinch. To me, that’s a great quality in a player who’s opportunity came quickly. He’s a coach’s son, he handled it in front of 80,000 people, and he took our team down the field. His first two series’ are the last time we saw a healthy Zak Clark. It’s really unfair to judge him after that because he was on one leg. It’s not fair for a true freshman or a first-year guy to be thrown to the wolves, especially on one leg. If you look back, he was 173 pounds. I think he got up to 180. He’s 207 now and looks really good. He’s stronger and quicker. He’s a little smarter and a little older, and Robby will be the same way. Robby is just not 100 percent right now. We don’t know exactly where he is and we will not know until we get out on the field.”

How much of a factor will (QB) Ryan Sorahan be?

“We haven’t had much success with junior college players to begin with, but to have a guy like Ryan, who has a lot of character and is so intelligent, he was reeling off the plays in the huddle. He’s an older guy and he has a lot of confidence. I think we’re extremely fortunate. You watch him throw and you’ll see he has kind of a funny release, but the end result is beautiful. He’s very accurate. The ball travels faster than you think and he knows where to go with it. I’m excited that he’s here with us. He’s not a loud guy, but he’s very confident. You can tell he’s stepped in the huddle. You like to see a guy that can step in front of 10 other sets of eyes and say ‘Hey, you follow me.’ That’s what he has, a presence in the huddle. Just to be able to call the plays here in the first 48 hours was impressive. It takes studying and he has obviously been studying. He’s very eager and ready to go.”

Can you comment on Sacha Lancaster’s switch to fullback?

“He’s changed his life around. I’m proud of him. He’s been a gym rat. Every time he gets a free second he goes to Danny’s (Nut) office. He could write a book on how to lose weight. He could do that. I’ve never seen a guy go from 295 to 248 that quickly and put everything in the right place. He’s in great shape and he looks good. We might also use him on third and eight to rush the passer. We’re going to put our best players on the field. If that means a couple of guys going both ways, we’re going to do that, as long as they can execute and know what to do.”

What are the plans for Nathan Ball?

“We’re going to keep him at tight end. He’s down to 274 pounds and looks more like a tight end. Last year he was a 300-pound guy. He’s a team player and has done whatever we’ve asked him to do. He’s been excellent with his work habits. Coach (Nolan) Richardson helped us. He let him play basketball in May and June, and I think he may have played a couple times in July. I’ve been really happy with him. He’s working hard and is ready to go.”

What are your major concerns?

“This time of year you feel good and your excited about the season. These guys have dreams and you want to get the best possible plan for them to be successful. All you want is a healthy team. That’s No. 1. You want consistency in the kicking game, a quarterback to stay healthy, to stay consistent and get the ball distributed to the right folks. The main thing is keeping your main horses out on the field.”

Is there a position that concerns you more than another?

“They all come to mind. Everybody wants to ask about the quarterbacks. I feel really good about our quarterback situation, much better than I did about three months ago. That’s because of the character we have there, the work ethic and the three guys we signed. Matt Jones, Tavaris Jackson (and Sorahan), if you haven’t seen them yet, they are impressive. They look like college quarterbacks. All of them have a special talent. You always want more depth in case somebody goes down whether it’s at defensive line or linebacker. Quinton Caver was a guy you knew was going to be there every Saturday and make a lot of tackles for you. Who’s going to be that guy? I feel like I know. I have a lot of confidence in Shane Collins, Caleb Miller, (Tony) Bua, (Jimmy) Beasley, Gavin Walls, Jermaine Petty, but they haven’t ever really done it in an SEC game. This is brand new for them.”

How much depth is there at running back?

“This time last year we thought we had a lot of depth at running back and all of a sudden we look up and kept saying ‘next.’ A lot of times you tell your players they are only a play away. A lot of times they think you aren’t telling them the truth, but last year, they truly believed us. That’s the way the season went. We thought we had a big number at running back and all of a sudden Cobbs goes down, next, Fred Talley is on his way to a 1,000 yards and he goes down, next, Brandon Holmes.”

How healthy is Cedric Cobbs?

“He’s very healthy and ready to go.”

You mentioned Sacha playing both ways, are there any others who might play both ways?

“They are young and I don’t want to blow their minds right now. There are younger guys who could possibly go both ways and I just want them to take baby steps right now. We’re not going to throw it all on them. There’s going to come a time, probably after the third or fourth two-a-day, when we’ll say ‘Would you go over here and run this route,’ ‘Would you go over there and cover this guy.’ We might say it’s cat coverage. That means you cover that cat. We want to keep it simple so they can do both. A confused guy can’t play.”

How has Robby Hampton progressed (from shoulder surgery)?

“He’s been throwing, but from what I understand, he doesn’t have full whip in his arm. It’s going to be interesting to see how much he can handle during two-a-days. Robby will know best. After he throws, it’s sore.”

How much option will you use this year?

“We’ll see a little but of it. How much, I don’t know. It depends on if we’re making first downs. If it’s going good, we’ll run it. That’s something that can help us. This is the fastest league, to me, in the world. I think it will slow (teams) down a little with responsibility. Who’s got the fullback, who’s got the tailback, who’s got the quarterback? With those questions, they can’t come full speed at your quarterback or tailback every play. It’s in the plans.”

How’s the kicking game?

“There’s no one who hates missing an extra point more than Brennan (O’Donohoe). I feel for what he’s going through. I believe in him and want him to be successful. It’s been tough on him because there’s no one who wants to make field goals more than he does and it hasn’t worked out. If you look at it, he’s hit a few for us. We haven’t tried very many. He’s missed a few. All we want is consistency. We know he can do it. He has a strong leg, he’s proven that. He got hurt early last year and I think that hurt his step and his confidence and he tried to make up for it by not following through. Then look at Richie Butler. I think the reason we beat Mississippi State and LSU is because of a sound punting game that kept them backed up. I think our punting game is really close to being very good.”

What about your return game?

“George Wilson was going good early on when we had our healthy people out there. Steadman (Campbell) came in and gave us a lift and then he got hurt and couldn’t play in the bowl game. We’ve had some inconsistency and injuries have hurt us. George and Gerald Howard have done a good job back there and I think you’ll see Marvin Jackson and some of these younger guys helping with that.”

Will we see Cedric (Cobbs) or (Fred) Talley returning kicks?

“Absolutely. If they’re ready to go, we’re going to put them out there.”

Is Fred Talley healthy?

“We think he is. We think he’s really close, but probably not 100 percent. He just had surgery in January. That (knee) ligament is a very tough surgery and it usually takes a full year. I’m anxious to see him, but he had one of our fastest 10- and 20-yard sprints, so that’s good news.”

After last year’s injuries, are you going to spend more time in practice getting your second- and third-string guys ready to play?

“We’ve always been well-conditioned and very rarely get anybody hurt in practice. Everybody gets a lot of reps and we’ll keep that same philosophy. We just don’t want to get anybody hurt in games. That’s where we got our guys hurt. Thank goodness we were getting Brandon Holmes reps and Fred Talley reps. We were preparing those guys to be ready. It’s hard to prepare a quarterback when you’ve got to go to the intramural field. They’re running different plays over there. Thank goodness for John Rutledge, who’s so highly intelligent that he could come back and have instant recall. We get them all ready to go, one, two and three. You can’t really get three quarterbacks ready. We’ll have three on the depth chart. One and two will be ready.”

How interested are you to see J. Strain at tight end?

“I can’t want to see J. Strain. What he brings is an instant game to the tight end spot, an instant threat. Nathan Ball is learning his way and will be much better. He has good hands. He can move. Marcellus (Poydras) is back and is in the best shape he’s been in. J. Strain is like a receiver, in our minds, at 260 pounds. He runs 4.7, has good hands and can block.”

What are your thoughts on the preseason predictions?

“That’s not what we look at. We look at the one at the end. We don’t need revenge and motivation. We don’t need all of that. We’ve been paying a price. It’s still on going. The sacrifice is an on-going, everyday thing. We’ve been paying the price to have the best team we can possibly have with 6 a.m. workouts in winter conditions, spring football and then coming back after spring football, which was unheard of, and having two more workouts.”

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