Arkansas had a good day of practice both offensively and defensively on Tuesday, the sixth day of fall camp, as several players are starting to get more comfortable in their roles.
Tuesday was Arkansas' second day in full gear, and while the practices have been tough there have been no live tackle drills, so far.
"It's been very physical the last two practices, and we'll get after it a little more on Thursday," Razorback head coach Bobby Petrino said. "We've been very physical in the drills that we do. When we have the experience coming back that we've got, we do need to be smart. We need to make sure that we get our good guys to the game."
QBs making strides
In Arkansas' offense, it all starts with the quarterbacks as junior Tyler Wilson and sophomore Brandon Mitchell are vying for the starting job. So far, Wilson has taken most of the reps with the first team while Mitchell is the next QB in the lineup.
"Quarterbacks are still inconsistent," Petrino said. "They've still got a lot of improvement out there, but they've taken strides the last two days, particularly in our play-action game and our quick game. They've got a way to go on their progression reads in our drop-back game. They're just not seeing things the way they need to, and therefore their timing's off a little bit."
During team drills on Tuesday, Wilson was 11 of 19 passing (57.8 percent) for 132 yards and 1 touchdown on a 1-yard toss to Chris Gragg. Wilson found sophomore Julian Horton for connections of 13, 25 and 26 yards. He also found Marquel Wade for 15 on a nice pass.
"I think we're making a lot of improvements in a lot of areas," Wilson said. "Guys are understanding where they're supposed to be, in blocking schemes. I thought our run game was really good today, so we're getting better."
Mitchell was 11 of 16 passing (68.8) for 116 yards and 1 interception, with a large chunk of that coming on a 40-yard hook-up with Knile Davis. Some of the passes may have been bigger completions for both quarterbacks, but the yardage was estimated at the point the player was tagged since the exercise was not live-tackle.
Arkansas is experimenting with a new camera angle to record practices from behind and above the line-of-scrimmage. A cameraman holds a long stick with a camera at the top to record practice behind the quarterbacks. It might look similar to playing an NCAA Football series video game.
"We were supposed to have that working in spring ball," Petrino said. "Something happened. It didn't work right. It's to help the quarterbacks come in and watch video and see what they see and give them a look at it. I've not seen it yet on video. Before we purchased it, I liked what we saw."
True freshman Brandon Allen was the only other quarterback to see action during team drills today, and he was 2 of 2, with a 15-yarder to Horton and a 5-yard completion to Davis.
Small creating big holes
The running backs are receiving a nice boost with the addition of fullback Kiero Small out of junior college.
"He's a great fullback. I've never seen a guy that just really wants to go hit somebody. That's all he's out there for is to go hit somebody. So, I like him. He's going to make big plays for us this year," junior tailback Dennis Johnson said.
"He's cleaning up the hole, he's making my reads easier, not blurry, and that's helping me out," Davis said. "The line's coming together, cleaning things up, so I'm able to hit stuff a little faster now. I hope it gets better and better."
"I really like Kiero," Petrino said. "He's been a very quick learner. He understands the game of football. He's really quick in the holes and out of the holes and can deliver a blow when he gets there. I'm encouraged. I think he'll help our running game. He catches the ball real well, and he has good instincts when he carries it. We've got to find out, is he going to be our short-yardage runner. Is it going to be Knile? Ronnie?"
Small said despite not going live tackle yet, he has been able to do everything he normally would do as a blocker except cut-block, and he doesn't want to throw one of those at the legs of his teammates, anyway.
"I've got pretty good hands, so I can catch out of the backfield. So far, I've been catching pretty good, and I can run a little bit," Small said. "Of course, it's different [than linebacker], but in some senses it's the same position - you go hit people. On this, you've got to be more disciplined, you've got to take certain tracks and stuff like that."
Moving Miles-Nash helps on the edge
The improving offensive line and the addition of Small are not the only reasons Davis is finding more running room than what he saw in the spring. The move of junior Colton Miles-Nash from defensive end to tight end [where he was as a freshman] should open up a lot for Davis and the other tailbacks.
"Ah, I really like Colton Nash," Petrino said. "He's going to provide punch for us. He's certainly going to help Knile Davis. When you watch all our video from last year, we were able to set edges for Knile, and he has great vision and great acceleration. So, when we got done with spring ball and you put on the runs from a year ago and the runs from spring ball, it was like 'we need to set the edge better.' Then you put on the video when Colton was a true freshman, and it was a no-brainer."
Youth on offensive line
Nash was not too thrilled at first about moving to tight end, but he got the No. 6 he has always wanted, and the offensive line did a great job recruiting him, according to Petrino. The offensive line is young, especially with senior starting guard Grant Cook out temporarily with an injury. Cook has been replaced in the lineup by true freshman Brey Cook.
Hopefully we'll have [Grant] Cook back here real soon," Petrino said. "I thought yesterday was Brey's best day this fall. As far as coming off the ball, delivering a blow, not hesitating.
"He was hesitating a little bit and thinking too much, but I thought yesterday he came off the ball. I haven't watched today's video yet, but I thought he held up in there real well.
Chance to see the field earlier for Ollison
That leaves two walk ons and three newcomers to man the second-team offensive line. To help shore things up, they decided to move true freshman defensive end Grady Ollison to offensive tackle.
"We have a need with Ollison," Petrnio said. "There's no question he can play defensive line. I was encouraged out of everything I saw with him playing defensive line. But we have a need on offense, we're not even three-deep. So, to be able to practice and give him a chance to compete for it. This is a talented young man, now. He's got great feet, he's real strong, he's smart. He has a chance to be a real special offensive lineman, so we decided to make the move."
The addition of full pads has helped the line better protect the quarterback. That along with some of the younger players getting more comfortable has resulted in more positive plays in the passing game.
"These guys are willing learners, and that's the thing I really like. Our attitude has been good," Petrino said. "I think our offensive line, once we got that pads on, gave me some encouragement, showed they have the ability. We're a long ways technique-wise on the offensive front. We've got a lot to learn."
Big days for Horton, Mitchell
Horton was the most active wide receiver Tuesday, though several made nice plays.
"Just keep running hard, just keep working hard," Horton said. "I just practice every day and am just trying to get better each day and do what Coach Petrino tells us."
On the other side of the ball, one of the more impressive defensive backs was true freshman Tevin Mitchel. Mitchel's coverage has been tight since the first day. Going one-on-one in drills against senior Greg Childs, not only did Mitchel avoid being shaken at the line on a good attempt by Childs, but he also stayed with Childs the next 40 yards into the end zone where he got in front of him for a leaping interception.
McKinney has big potential
To help numbers in the secondary, the coaches have decided to move wide receiver Davyon McKinney to cornerback full-time.
"When I first moved him over there, I was thinking 'well, he'll be a receiver for us.' Then when you watch his drill work and what Willy thought of him, to have a 6-2, 6-1-and-a-half corner with long arms who really likes to hit. He's a willing hitter. He's very physical at it, and we need to give him a shot to see if that's his best position," Petrino said.
True freshman snapper from Arizona
Arkansas brought in a well regarded walk-on deep-snapper in true freshman Alan D'Appollonio, 6-0, 201, out of Phoenix (Ariz.) Shadow Mountain, and he has been running with the first group on field goals and extra points. Will Coleman will battle with him to retain duties as the snapper on punts.
"Coach K recruiting him, and he was interested in coming out here, and he's done a nice job. He's got good velocity on the ball. He's got to work on his accuracy a little bit. In punt game he's been accurate. He was a little bit wild out there tonight. We want the ball perfect. We want it right where the holder's hands are, and he was a little bit behind him. I think he's got to get used to where he's aligned, but he's very talented. He's a guy that when you search the country looking for long-snappers, he's been to all the best camps and is very well-coached. I'm encouraged with him. I think he's really going to help us because of the velocity that he has with the ball."
Reserve quarterback Brian Buehner is the first holder off the bench at this time, followed by starting punter Dylan Breeding. Defensive end Jake Bequette is holding the edge as a blocker on field goals, and coaches worked Small,a 255-pounder, at one of the gunner spots on kickoff coverage.
True freshman wide receiver Keante Minor and defensive tackle DeMarcus Hodge rejoined practice Tuesday after missing Monday. Redshirt freshman safety Darrell Smith missed Sunday, was back Monday but was out again on Tuesday, and true freshman walk-on linebacker Mitchell Loewen, from Lahaina, Hawaii was back after missing two days.
The Hogs will get back to work from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, which will be Arkansas seventh of fall camp.