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August 7, 2014
Hogs bounce back
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PHOTOS: 2014 Fall Camp: Day 4 | SIGNING: Zach Rogers Inks with Hogs
A major focus with the Razorbacks in fall camp is finding out which transfers and freshmen have the physical ability to help right away before making them think too much about installation or confusing them with position changes prior to Saturday's scrimmage.
"They know a little bit, but they don't know very much, and we're going to keep it that way until we know who to play," UA offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said.
"We haven't made any [changes], and I'm sure we won't until at least after Saturday's scrimmage," offensive line coach Sam Pittman said. "But that's up to Coach Bielema and Coach Chaney on what he wants to do.
After four days of install, Chaney estimates that 50-to-60 percent of the offense has been installed. Starting junior quarterback Brandon Allen estimated 60-65 percent of the offense is now in during camp.
"We've been massive install right now, so I didn't want to move them from one position to another until after all [the scrimmage] is completed," Pittman said. "After that, we'll try to find who our best five players are. And we have some competition, so that's a good thing."
What happened Wednesday?
Wednesday's practice - the first in half gear with shoulder pads - went really poorly for the offense. Coaches were pleased, however, with the way the players responded on Thursday.
"Offense is a game of execution," Chaney said. "When one guy breaks down, the play doesn't work. About every play we had somebody breaking down - one , maybe two. Hell, a few of them I think we had about 11 of them go the wrong way.
"We responded from some harsh criticism from the coaching staff last night. Good to see a bunch of kids respond," Chaney said. "We were just sloppy everywhere. It's like we put pads on, we started playing and we forgot all the details of our assignments."
Does that mean the quarterbacks struggled too?
"Brandon threw an interception yesterday. Just missed on an over route. Threw it a little bit behind," Chaney said. "I think he's probably thrown 180-200 balls already with one interception, so I'm pleased with that."
"I think we were just feeling sorry for ourselves before practice and kind of let the heat get to us a little bit," Allen said. "Came out with the wrong mindset of getting ready to work, so our practice reflected that."
Allen added that within the first five or six days of camp they will have 90 percent of the offense installed.
"We've got a lot of third downs in right now," Allen said. "We haven't worked in the goal line and red zone. That's the next phase that we have left. First, second, thirds we did today. Moving the ball, played it out. We have our basic plays that we're trying to run, and it's really red zone and goal line that we haven't gotten to."
Receivers feel Wednesday woes too
"Yesterday I didn't like the way we caught the ball," Receivers coach Michael Smith said. "I thought we kind of regressed yesterday from an overall group. The 1s I think have been solid, but from an overall group I thought we regressed. [Thursday] they caught the ball extremely well."
Count redshirt freshman Damon Mitchell, also known as 'Duwop,' as one of the receivers who caught it well Thursday. Mitchell somewhat reluctantly changed from quarterback to receiver in the spring but has now fully embraced the move.
"Coach Bielema was like if I'm going to do it then I've got to buy into it and attack it and try to get better at it every day," Mitchell said. "Wide receivers in the draft were about 128 taken over five quarterbacks, I'd say I have a better chance [to be drafted one day]."
Inside the receiver positions
Sophomore Drew Morgan took over today as the first team Z ahead of Keon Hatcher. Mitchell is also working primarily as a Z.
"It was a rough day yesterday for all of us. We weren't on the same path as we were supposed to be. Today we switched it up a little bit. Coach liked it," Morgan said. "I'm running with the 1s. Me and Keon are competing right now for the Z-position. I'm still rolling with F and playing inside and outside. We're rolling with the 1s and 2s right now."
Cody Hollister, who works at X and Z, appears to primarily be an X and is pushing starter Demetrius Wilson. Morgan also works at the F and was with the first group there before working more at Z now. Now Jared Cornelius and JoJo Robinson would be the F receivers if Arkansas came out in three-wide.
Cornelius was very impressive in the spring, and Razorback fans are anxious to get a look at the speedy Robinson, who is a good bet to contribute on special teams early in his career.
"I definitely think he can help from a special teams aspect," Smith said. "He's got a DB background, so running down on kicks. He's also a punt-returner. We're giving him an opportunity to catch punts back there. We've got some guys in front of him, but he can definitely play for us this year."
Cornelius and Robinson are not the only true freshmen being considered for early playing time, but there really are not a lot of candidates on the offensive side of the ball. On the offensive line, true freshman Brian Wallace has shown loads of potential but is still way off from contributing from a technique and knowledge standpoint. Wallace, a Rivals100 member and the No. 1 ranked prospect out of Missouri, is working at right tackle.
"I see a young colt," Pittman said. "His feet are everywhere. They're fast as heck. Obviously he's young, and we just have to keep working with his technique. We have to keep working with him learning the offense. But you can see him coming every day now, and he's big and he's very talented.
"That's exactly right," senior starting right tackle Brey Cook said. "He's very quick. He's incredibly quick. His punch is strong. I've been out there being a dummy for him, and he's got a good punch. He's a very strong kid, he's a quick kid, and I think once he gets the playbook down and everything he'll be on fire."
True freshman Frank Ragnow is still working as the backup center behind Mitch Smothers. The center position carries a lot more responsibilities as far as calls and recognitions than the other line spots require, and Ragnow is impressing his coaches and peers with his quick adjustment to the college game.
"That's a hard spot now. As much installation as we've had in four days and him to come in and snap the ball and make the calls, he's done a tremendous job to this point," Pittman said.
Arkansas rolled with two true freshmen on the offensive line in 2013 in Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper, both of whom seem poised for a big leap forward in 2014.
"Denver has done an amazing job in his conditioning. The work he put in that he didn't necessarily put in last summer or last fall, and he was really able to surprise me coming in strong. And of course Skipper, he gives 100 percent all the time and he did this summer," Cook said.
Hogs strong at TE
The tight ends may not rely on any newcomers this season, but some familiar names could be in line for big results. Jeremy Sprinkle is 35 pounds heavier than when he arrived and now carries 242. Sprinkle is a long body at 6-foot-6 who specializes as a receiving tight end but is becoming more balanced as he adds size.
"I saw the before and after of him the other day. Man, it was like me in 1995 and me in 2014. It was pretty mind-blowing his in a better way, though. He's put on nice weight," Lunney said. "He's really long-limbed and long-legged. We could ski behind his feet. He's got big feet. So, it's hard for a guy that's that long to be real sudden and urgent out of his stance, and he's made a consorted effort to improve that, and I've seen that."
Senior quarterback-turned-tight end A.J. Derby has drawn a lot of praise since moving over, not only for his receiving skills but also for his blocking. It has been suggested by some that Derby may even have a shot at the next level as a tight end.
"We all know he's gifted. He is. He's a great foot athlete, he's smart, he can catch the ball and he's a willing blocker," Lunney said. "He's got to play. There's a lot to prove there - the whole position group has a lot to prove as a whole - but especially him."
Inside the tight end positions
"You see them moving people up front in the running game, and you see them making great catches," Allen said. "A.J.'s had a few diving catches in the camp so far, so you're seeing some really athletic plays from some big guys which is a huge mismatch for us on offense."
Odds and ends
The Razorbacks will practice at 2:30 p.m. Friday and will be in full pads for the first time. It will mark the fifth practice as many days. Saturday's scrimmage is open to the media only, and the practice portion will begin at approximately 9:10 a.m.