Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

SPORTS >> Sounds of Hogs’ scrimmage may have told truer tales than sights

By NATE ALLEN
Nate Allen Media Services

What Bobby Petrino heard and what his players felt may be more important to these Razorbacks than what was seen in last Saturday’s debut scrimmage for spring football 2009.

Second-year Arkansas coach Petrino liked the sounds of Saturday’s scrimmage considerably better than when the Hogs first hit last spring. He heard hits registering velocity he implied he didn’t hear this time last year.

“We are learning a lot about our team chemistry and energy and enthusiasm and our physicalness,” Petrino said after last Saturday’s scrimmage inside the Walker Pavilion. “Last year I kind of felt like it was pulling teeth to get them to hit and concentrate on the physical part of the drills. This year they are really eager and see some success. Anytime you see success you can build off of it.”

It helps considerably that the returning Razorbacks have a measuring stick on Petrino’s spring coaching philosophy. It includes long practices, even in the workouts mandated to be without pads, and long scrimmages on the workouts the NCAA allow to be full bore.

“I think we are moving around a lot faster and a year ahead of where we were last year,” third-year sophomore defensive end Jake Bequette said. “Everybody is used to the longer practices. We know what to expect and we know what the coaches expect from us. We know the playbook and are very confident in our alignment and assignment.”

Wendel Davis came on during 2008 to be the starting middle linebacker, but the Petrino ordeal during spring drills and the August preseason is new to him. The senior required major knee surgery during a 2008 winter conditioning workout and had to miss practices and rehab all the way through last season’s start before he was able to play. By then, practices are shortened to keep players fresh for game day.

It was interesting to hear one of Arkansas’ most veteran players relate his ongoing rookie experience with Petrino’s rugged practices.

“I’ve always been a cramper, but I hadn’t been through practices like this as tough and physical,” Davis said. “I’ve been taking care of my body but obviously I need to take care of it a little bit more. I need to drink more fluids and get more rest and watch what I eat.”

When not cramping himself, Davis has been cramping the offense. He made the lone interception of last Saturday’s scrimmage, picking off one of strong-armed quarterback Ryan Mallett’s misguided missiles.

Mallett, 11 of 25 with two TD passes to wideoutJarius Wright, threw the deep ball really well Saturday, but tossed a few of the short ones too hard. Those are apt to turn into interceptions, though the one to Wendel Davis blasted at him unfettered.

“It was coming at me really fast, but I was braced for it, ” Davis said. “It hit me in the hands and I grabbed it and held on. I don’t think it was a special play because I’ve got to make the plays that come to me.”

Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson is not one to spend praise freely, but saw Davis’ play special enough to laud the senior Saturday.

A linebacking corps that started shakily last year —Davis was injured and outside linebacker Freddy Burton was on disciplinary suspension — now is a defensive base. Davis starts in the middle flanked by Franklin and Burton just like they finished 2008.

“I thought Wendel Davis has improved tremendously,” Robinson said. “I thought he’s really picked it up. Freddy Burton’s got some consistency about him.”

Regarding the offensive part of Saturday’s scrimmage, it was good to see sophomore tailback De’Anthony Curtis of Camden Fairview turn heads, not to mention change opinions.

Some of the same fans who were clamoring for Petrino to recognize Curtis’ talent are now ready to throw him under the bus. Injuries and a couple of fumbles diminished Curtis’ 2008 Razorback season.

Curtis netted 56 yards on six carries last Saturday, including a tackle-shedding, leg-churning 30-yard touchdown.

“You saw De’Anthony Curtis have a great run,” Petrino said. “Definitely, that helps his confidence. He knows that’s the emphasis of this spring, that when he has contact, keep his legs driving and make yards after contact. That’s something that he’s really concentrating on. He’s a great kid. He’s going to work as hard as he possibly can.”