Arkansas football head coach Houston Nutt held a press conference to start media day for the Razorbacks. The coaches and players met with local media outlets Monday morning. The following is the transcript of Coach Nutt’s press conference:
Opening Statement from Coach Nutt
During the first two days, I have been really proud of the seniors and the ownership they have taken from the summer until now. I have been really proud of Marcus Monk, Marcus Harrison, Matterral Richardson, Weston Dacus, Robert Felton, Peyton Hillis and a lot of our juniors have stepped up like Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. There will be more juniors that step into that role as far as taking senior leadership. Again, it is all in the attitude. You love their attitude and how they carry on their work. We are always anxious and looking forward to the first few days. We have a good group of freshman as well and they have really stepped up. Once they learn the speed of the game and the speed we demand, they will be fine. We will see what happens in the next few days as the guys adjust, but overall we are off to a good start.
What is the general feeling after the first two days of practice?
There has been good attitude, work ethic, mindset and listening skills. Our young players are very anxious and ready to learn. The first thing that jumps out is how the guys go about practice. Again, I have been really proud of the seniors and how they are taking charge. You love the start of (practice) and how they are all going about it. Things like Marcus Monk catching a six-yard hitch and running 50 yards is the type of work ethic, leadership and example that you have to be proud of so far.
About Marcus Monk taking on a leadership role
If there is one guy to talk about as a leader, his name represents leader. He showed good work ethic and attitude all summer, and ever since he has been (at Arkansas). He probably could have left early, but he didn’t, and he has gone about things in a good way and really taking ownership. I love the way he practices and he is going to be successful no matter what he does. That is really easy to see because he has the ingredients for the recipe and the recipe is character, integrity, work ethic and attitude. Marcus Monk has all those things.
How is the coaching staff preparing Casey Dick to be the starting quarterback?
First of all, we are telling him he has a good supporting cast, so he doesn’t have to be superman and doesn’t have to be a hero on every play. We are asking him to hand the ball off and we’re asking him to throw it. He just needs to keep things simple, and when there is a play to be made, he needs to do what exactly what he’s been doing in practice. I think you are going to see a different Casey because he is a different quarterback this year. The reasons I say that are, one, he’s older and has some games under his belt. The other reason is (offensive coordinator) David Lee. David Lee will have him ready. We will have a lot of confidence in Casey Dick by the time we are ready to go in the first game. To answer the question, he doesn’t have to press because he has his teammates (on offense) and the defense. He has Marcus Monk, Peyton Hillis, Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. When you have enough teammates around you, they are going to make you look good, so don’t press and just keep doing what you practice. I think you will see because of his age and because he is a little bit older and what all he has gone through, you will see he is will be much, much better.
About protecting Casey in the offense (scrambling, rollouts, etc.)
I don’t think we will ever tell him to take off scrambling because that is not what the offense is made to do. The offense is quick with play actions, so with his maturity, I don’t think he will be running around. That is not his forte and it is not what he does. As far as scrimmages, we will have a couple, but as far as turning the first-team defense loose on Casey, we probably won’t do that. We will have some good scrimmages and we will have enough pressure on him to see how he executes in practice before that first game.
Who can step into the leadership role left by Sam Olajubutu?
I think Weston Dacus is one of them, along with Marcus Harrison and Matterral Richardson. Michael Grant is trying to step in, although he is quiet and does it by example, and Chris Wade, too. Those are the guys right now. There are not as many, but we are depending a lot on Weston Dacus and Marucs Harrison. I feel good about this group of linebackers and they will continue to get better. They are very quick. Sam Olajubutu had been through it though. He knew how to take the shortcuts to go get the ball carrier and he had a great nose for the ball. All those things plus the experience will be missed, but I think Weston has done a good job of leading that group. There is also Freddie Fairchild who is coming back from surgery and we’re proud of that. Ryan Powers, Desmond Williams and Chip Gregory have to keep coming, but we have some numbers there. The good thing about this group is they can run and they are athletic.
How will the team adjust to the new rule of kicking off from the 30-yard line?
(The coaches) spent a lot of time talking about this, and we’ll spend some more time talking about it because it is a big play. If there is one play that concerns me, it is the kickoff. That is a lot of ground to cover with a lot of big, fast bodies and collisions that are made on the kickoff, so it’s a tough play. We have to put our best people out there to cover it. There will be very few people who can kick the ball out of the end zone unless there is a big wind, so we have to do a very good job and put some fast people on that team. On the flip side of that, I get excited about kickoff return with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. There will probably be a lot of teams that kick away from them, so we’re going to win the field position. So if we played a ballgame tonight, we would probably take the ball to help our field position. Again, it will depend on the wind and how our guys are kicking. We’ll have to work on that.
About the Wildcat offense and its role
We are just trying to improve on that package and make it better. Darren has tremendous feel for it. We started working the very first day on things with him. We have a lot of confidence in Felix Jones being back there in the trigger man position to be able to hand the ball off or fake it or run with it, so that helps when you have him and the ability to hand off to Peyton Hillis. Those three guys, plus when you add a fourth guy like Michael Smith, make up a quality backfield with a formation that presents a problem.
What qualities have stuck out for the freshman quarterbacks?
You love Casey Dick’s height. He’s very tall with a good arm. Joe Chaisson is more of an athlete who is very intelligent and has great leadership skills. We also have (Brian) Reader who is out of California. I am really surprised he wasn’t recruited and you’ll see why as time goes on. He has a good arm and release. He is very smart, so I’m anxious to see how does under a little bit more pressure.
How hungry is this year’s team?
They are very hungry. Right now and this year, these guys have done everything we have asked them to do starting with attitude and commitment. All those things sound so simple. Each year, these teams have a different personality. I can’t say enough about these guys and how they have done things the right way. They are very hungry and they want to get back to Atlanta. It is not easy, and you all know that. Going to Baton Rouge, Alabama and Oxford is very difficult, but they are doing everything the right way to try and get back to that position. The only thing you can judge everything on is their attitude, how they do things and how they practice, so that is what excites me. I know how hungry they. I know why Marcus Monk came back. You see Darren McFadden has been on every magazine and you see how he practices. That is what excites you. Then you still have Felix, Peyton and the defense and how they all run to the ball. The thing that concerns you is when you lose guys like Jamal Anderson and Chris Houston, you have to wonder who’s next. I think we have some good guys out there. I love Malcolm Sheppard and how hard he plays. Who is the next guy? That’s what you have do to find out who will be the next corner or defensive end. We have to build on that depth especially with the bumps and bruises that come with the SEC.
How will the freshman have an impact on this team?
It’s hard to say right now because they are still trying to find their way to the locker room and the cafeteria. They are still taking baby step, but you love that they are not shy. I am anxious to put the pads on these guys to see if they will continue to not be shy. Sometimes when you just have helmets on, everybody looks pretty fast and pretty good, but when you put the pads on with the big guys, you can find out in a hurry. D.J. Williams has really done some good things and has stood out the first couple days. The offensive linemen have done some good things, but it’s harder for a lineman to play. You love their size and their footwork. Bret Harris, Isaac Madison and the secondary have done some outstanding things and I’m really anxious to see how they do when we put on the shoulder pads. Crosby Tuck has really done some outstanding things. For one, he can get off the line of scrimmage. On the first very day, I thought he did an excellent job. That is usually the biggest transition for a high school receiver to come off the line, but now there is someone in your face trying to beat you up, so he’s done a great job getting off the line of scrimmage. So we’ll just have to see. Jermaine Love has looked very good. He looks like a sophomore as far as his body, so that is going to help.
How will Alex Tejada handle any pressure on him?
Alex Tejada is another freshman I should have mentioned with my first breath. He had a very, very good first two days. I’m very excited about him and glad he is on our campus. I love how his focus and I love how he concentrates. There is one story where Alex had hit a couple of field goals in a team pressure situation and (safeties coach) Chris Vaughn told him ‘nice job’ and we were not done kicking yet, and Alex Tejada looked right through him like he wasn’t there. A lot of freshman would have acknowledged a college coach to say thank you very much, but Alex Tejada didn’t and he had that Tiger Woods focus which is what I love and what you need to have especially as a kicker. I’m excited about Alex.
What is the biggest concern right now?
It’s the depth on defense on the line and in the secondary. With the offensive line, I like the way we have our numbers, but the experience after the first group varies, so you just hope and pray that we can stay away from injury
About the offensive weapons on the team
You always want to strive for those 28 points, but you’d love to have 30. It used to be that we always talked about getting 24 points for a win. That’s a little higher here in the SEC with every game and every team that has the firepower that the SEC has. You have to be able to score. We’re a little bit more experienced than the defense right now, but I love the way (defensive coordinator) Reggie Herring has a very good plan and he always has his teams better by November. Defenses are going to make us play left handed, and what I mean by that is that everyone knows who No. 5 (Darren McFadden) is. When he gets off the bus somebody is going to be watching him, so how are we going to be able to put points on the board when you know they are going to overpopulate the line of scrimmage? They will keep an eye on No. 5 wherever he goes. So it’s hard to sit here today in August and say we’re going to score however many points. We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing the last couple days in practice and be able to execute under pressure. When it’s third and five, we have to be able to get six. We have to be able to move the chains and do a great job on third downs.
About working with this coaching staff
It has been a very smooth transition. Of course David Lee is here for a third time, so he’s like a three-year letterman. There has been a lot of carry over. What he has been able to bring to the table is his work with the Dallas Cowboys, the passing game, play action and the third-down package. Tim Horton, who has had the shortest time to adjust, has done a great job. We are very fortunate to have both those guys here.
About his coaching mentality and philosophy
As far as my philosophy, it hasn’t changed that much because we’re still going to need the run and still going to need to stop the run and we want to get better throwing the football. As an old throwing quarterback, I always want to throw the ball and we still have a lot of throwing records here which go a little bit unnoticed. It goes without saying that I love to throw the football. When you look at Clint Stoerner, Anthony Lucas and some of the guys we’ve had to throw and catch the football, I feel that way about Marcus Monk. London Crawford is really coming on. Chris Baker has been working hard. Casey Dick is a year older, so the biggest thing as far as philosophy goes is that I want to improve the passing game because I know that we can’t do 100 percent running just like you can’t do 100 percent passing. We have to be able to do both. When it comes right down to it, you have to be a physical team in this league and you have to be able to stop the run and offensively, it’s about execution. So that philosophy hasn’t changed.
About establishing depth at the wide receiver positions
It’s really important because teams will double Monk. Going into this season, I feel better about our wide receivers. I can’t wait to go along further and see how this group emerges. Reggie Fish had a good day yesterday. He’s bigger than he has ever been and stronger than he has ever been. Robert Johnson had a great first day, so we just need those guys to keep stepping up and continue to get better. We could see some freshman step in there and play a key role. We also have Ben Cleveland and Andrew Davie. The good thing about the package we have is the ability to throw to guys like McFadden, Peyton Hillis and Felix Jones.
How is the team dealing with the Heisman campaign for Darren McFadden?
We touched on that during the very first meeting and we have a plan. The biggest plan is winning, that’s the best plan. (Darren) is the front runner and we all know that. He came in second last year, so we told Darren to continue to be Darren McFadden because to sit here and put this kind of pressure of having to score an 80-yard touchdown and being primetime will not work. Just worry about getting those four yards and getting your assignments. He has to worry about being Darren McFadden. The worst thing we can do is press and say ‘we have to do this, we have to do that.’ The bottom line is when we win it brings more attention to the team and when you’re winning, good things happen for everybody.
We’ve never been in this position. We’ve never had twenty before August 10. The biggest things are we won a championship and (the recruits) see Darren McFadden on magazines. Another big thing is when the parents get here and they come on campus and meet our faculty and see our academic room. They meet our players, the best ambassadors, and they meet our coaches and them mom says ‘I want my son to be here.’ Recruiting has become a year-round thing and it never stops. We’re in a position right now to feel good about it.