Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Full-speed Saturday for Hogs
Arkansas running back Alex Collins runs drills during Thursday afternoon's practice in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - The Arkansas football players claim they’re much improved from a year ago in the spring, and now comes their chance to show that to their fans.
The Razorbacks will hold their first scrimmage of the spring today at approximately 11:45 a.m. at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The only available entry to the stadium will be Gate 1, which will open at 11 a.m.
This will be the first chance for Arkansas fans to see their team live since the Razorbacks nearly upset No. 15 LSU last Nov. 29, losing 31-27 in Baton Rouge.
“Oh yeah, full speed Saturday,” Arkansas linebackers coach Randy Shannon said. “Everything goes - except for quarterbacks.”
Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said he is looking forward to seeing how the players compete in game-type situations without coaches on the field screaming at them.
“That’s always a fun time for me,” Chaney said. “I love the first scrimmage of the spring.”
First-year defensive coordinator Robb Smith said he wants to see how the players react to live action.
“We’re going to play football a little bit, see where they are from a football I.Q. standpoint,” Smith said. “That’s one thing we spent a lot of time on so far this spring.”
Linebacker Martrell Spaight said fans should expect a high-energy practice..
“It’s going to be fun to finally go out and hit somebody,” said Spaight, who is going through spring drills with the Razorbacks for the first time. “We’re looking forward to it. Our intensity is going to be really high. It’s going to be a great time.”
The Razorbacks return seven offensive starters and eight defensive starters in the second year under Coach Bret Bielema.
“We’re better in our system and we know our offense better,” said sophomore tight end Hunter Henry, one of the bright spots of Arkansas’ 3-9 season, which ended with a nine-game losing streak.
“Obviously everybody looks forward to scrimmages. But if you’re an O-line coach, every day is a scrimmage, you know what I mean?” offensive line coach Sam Pittman said.
“The quarterback doesn’t get hit, the running backs don’t get hit, but as an O-line, you’re hitting and going full speed. It’s an amped deal. It’s more fun.”
Allen, a junior, is preparing for his second season as a starter.
“I’m ready to get the live bullets flying,” said Allen, who injured his shoulder when landing awkwardly on a touchdown run in Arkansas’ 24-3 victory over Southern Mississippi in the third game of the season. “I think it will be a lot of fun for us. I know a lot of guys are ready to go hit, make plays and make tackles. I think it will be good for us and be a lot of fun.”
Allen will be taking snaps from Luke Charpentier, one of two new starters on the Razorbacks offense line, which returns senior Brey Cook and standout sophomores Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper.
“I’m just looking forward to playing football - first, second, third down, how football is supposed to be played,” Charpentier said. “We’re doing a lot of situation stuff right now. And [a scrimmage] is really when you get to see how well we’re doing, how hard the backs are running, if we can finish blocks.”
The Arkansas defense appeared to be making more plays in Thursday’s practice, which included an extensive amount of third-down work,which meant fewer run plays.
Junior Jonathan Williams and sophomore Alex Collins, the tailback tandem, should get more opportunity today.
Chaney said Collins has shown better ball security in the spring after losing a few key fumbles last year.
“We’re on Alex’s butt all the time about being a smarter ball carrier,” Chaney said. “He’s got physical talent and skills, and he needs to continue to press the hole better, and he knows that. We watch that and show it to him on tape. He figures that out, and hopefully he’ll keep getting better at the details of his position. I’m pleased with him.”
Razorbacks scrimmage WHEN 11:45 a.m. today WHERE Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville.
ADMISSION Free. Enter through Gate 1. Gate opens at 11 a.m.
Sports, Pages 21 on 04/05/2014