ARKANSAS SPRING FOOTBALL
Petrino era off to a fast start
BY TOM MURPHY ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ first football practice of the Bobby Petrino was a beehive of activity.
Constant motion, no pauses between periods and sprinting from one drill to the next is the look of a Petrino practice. Conditioning work isn’t necessarily at the end because it takes place throughout.
“I like the tempo,” Petrino said after Thursday’s two-hour practice that was held inside Walker Pavilion because of midafternoon thunderstorms. “We are going to work at a fast pace, and hopefully when we do that we won’t have to spend a lot of time running sprints at the end of practice. We should be in good shape from the way we practice.”
Petrino called Thursday’s work the “easiest” practice the Razorbacks will have all spring.
“Our tempo and timing needs to be better, but the first day, it wasn’t too bad,” Petrino said. “I liked it, but again, it was an easy day. We’ll find out when it’s 90 degrees and the players are tired who is going to step up.”
Signs of hyperactivity were everywhere from the start of the first period as the offensive skill players sprinted a gantlet of four coaches and managers slamming them with dummies as they ran the sideline.
“That’s a drill that focuses on body positioning and pad level and ball security,” running backs coach Tim Horton said. “It probably helps with a little toughness as well.”
The intensity was jacked up on both sides of the ball. Ball carriers and receivers had to sprint well down the field whether they stayed on their feet, fell and got up or were “tackled” with a below-the-belt touch. Defenders had to sprint to the ball carrier no matter where they were positioned on the field.
At least four times, offensive coordinator Paul Petrino went tearing down the field bellowing behind a runner, shouting once to receiver Marques Wade, “Sprint after the catch!”
The only water breaks were quickly snatched squirts from a bottle between drills. Many periods, two defensive units would be lined up side by side against scout teams, alternating snaps to keep up the pace.
“It’s real fast, up-tempo, no slacking, so you’ve got to be ready to run,” safety Rashaad Johnson said. “No walking, no jogging, just straight to it.”
In offensive pass skeleton, the reps came fast and furious.
“What you want to do as a coach is put your kids in gamelike positions,” quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee said. “Have the tempo as fast as you can make it on the practice field so that when you get in the game it’s not a shock to them. I think our kids did a good job of playing fast, but playing healthy and playing smart.”
Transfer quarterback Ryan Mallett, 6-6, 255, had a touchdown pass to Carlton Salters over Isaac Madison. He took most of his snaps with the second and third units, but also mixed in at the front of some drills.
“They told us we were going to have a fast tempo, going from period to period,” Mallett said. “Everybody worked hard in conditioning, just running and lifting.”
Said tight end Ben Cleveland: “It’s a whole different atmosphere. We’ve got a whole different pace in the weight room and we’re bringing that to the field.”
Standout performers on Day 1 included running back Michael Smith, receivers Wade and Lucas Miller, tight end D.J. Williams, defensive end Adrian Davis and cornerback Jamar Love.
“I thought Michael Smith looked pretty quick,” Petrino said.
Miller had a handful of diving catches, while Wade and London Crawford caught deepball “touchdowns” from Alex Mortensen in pass skeleton. Davis stayed honest on an endaround to be in position to blow up a reverse for Wade, who showed good hands all practice.