FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas football head coach Bobby Petrino met with local media Monday to discuss the beginning of spring practice which begins Thursday for the Razorbacks. The session of practices will conclude with the annual Red-White Spring Football Game scheduled for Saturday, April 26 at 6 p.m. at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The following is a partial transcript of the press conference.
On challenges heading into spring practice
“The challenge is implementing a new system. We have to make sure that we concentrate hard on our technique and fundamentals and not get caught up on just the X’s and O’s of it. Also, we have to make sure we’re patient and not going too fast. Anytime you put in something new, you want to go too fast and what happens then is you get away from the technique and fundamentals of playing the position just to get that part of the offense implemented or that part of the defense implemented. We have to make sure we continue to work hard on our technique and fundamentals. That’s really what I have to make sure I keep a good eye on.”
On off-season player workouts
“(The players) have been working hard in the weight room. We have an excellent strength and conditioning staff. I think they’re doing a real nice job with them. Some guys have worked hard at getting bigger and stronger. Some guys have worked hard at getting smaller and stronger. We have a certain amount of guys that need to lose weight and get to the weight we want them.
“We tested before we went on spring break. We were pretty happy with the results. Obviously, we still have some improvements, but we were able to identify areas that certain players need to improve. We’ve adjusted our groups now for spring ball and how we’ll look; which guys need to continue to work on technique, which guys need to work on strength. We actually know a lot more about our football team which is good.”
On the determining the depth chart
“(Spring practice) will have an impact. It determines the confidence the coaching staff has in the young man and the confidence the young man has in himself and how much the other players do. When you come back in the fall, you line up in those spots that you ended spring in that you have a chance to compete to keep or lose. Every practice that we have this spring is going to be very, very important to our team and to the individual as far as the depth chart goes.”
On implementing the play book
“We go after it pretty hard and see if we can get as much of it in as we can. We’ll throw a lot at them and then we’ll come back and repeat that. Then we’ll come back and repeat it again. Then they should have it. Once we repeat it three times, they need to have it or we’ll have an understanding that they might need to be sitting on the bench for awhile.”
“(Ernest) Mitchell will be out. He’s doing very well. I’m very impressed with how he’s coming through the recovery. (Marcus) Shavers will be limited. He’s moved on and started to progress in the strength and conditioning aspect of the shoulder, but he won’t be in any contact drills. (Walner) Leandre won’t be in any contact drills. Those three guys had surgery right after the bowl game, so they’ll miss some. Wendel Davis will miss spring ball and, hopefully, be ready when we kick it off in the fall.
“Mitchell had a knee that he had been playing with for a couple of years and this was the time to make sure we got it fixed. Both, Shavers and Leandre had shoulder surgery where they go in and tie it down. They’re all doing well. You just don’t want to have contact in the spring and they’ll be ready in the fall. Davis had knee (surgery) in the off season that went very well. He’s doing well, too.”
On head strength and conditioning coach, Jason Veltkamp
“One thing that Jason (Veltkamp) has is the unique way of driving a young man hard and getting him to understand they can be better physically. He works extremely hard in the areas that are important to function as a football player. I think that’s what I’ve been more impressed with than anything. We’re not trying to build a power lifting team. We work extremely hard on flexibility and on our core.
“We still want to do a good job when we max in our lifting, but the most important thing is that everything we do is to improve as an athlete and keep you healthy. I think he does a great job at identifying those workouts and making sure that’s how we work. Then he’s able to have that balance of pushing the young man hard and putting his arm around him and telling him he loves him when he needs that.”
On position changes
“Chip Gregory was a receiver/linebacker prior to going to running back. He’s going to be working at running back for us. I think that’s about it as far as guys and where they lined up last year. We move him to running back and he’s been working there. I like his size. I like his strength. One of the priorities since I got the job was to try to identify somebody who would be considered a big back. I do think the game changes a little bit in the fourth quarter when you can throw some big backs at the defense.”
On the linebackers
“(The depth) looks to be thin. (Elston) Forte has to do a good job for us. I’ve been really impressed with his leadership. He’s a very coachable young man and has improved physically. He’s gotten stronger and faster, so we’re going to look to him to help bring (Jerry) Franklin and (Ryan) Powers along. Powers is a young man that can really, really run. He tested out great in our speed work. He has to continue to get bigger, but he can really run. With Franklin it will be fun to see how he does as a freshman out there. Those guys, I think, will line up first the first day.
“Then you have Freddy Burton and (Jermaine) Love will be in there some with (Aaron) Fenton. We moved (Robert) Salinas. When we first got here, he was lining up at fullback and getting some work there. Then we found out in high school he was a sack leader in the state of Texas and because of our depth at linebacker, we moved him to linebacker. I think that might be a pretty good fit for him.”
On Ben Cleveland
“(Ben Cleveland) is not as healthy as you’d like him to be. He’s trying to work through it and trying to fight through it. When most people condition and run four days a week, he goes two. So we’re still trying to work him back in to getting there. When he is running and conditioning, he has gotten better. So I think it’s just a matter of time, hopefully by the fall, that he’ll be 100 percent. We’re going to push him and see if we can go as long and hard as we can.”
On Jim Hart
“(Jim Hart) hasn’t been able to participate in anything in the off season as far as the strength and conditioning goes. He had a back surgery, so he’ll be out all spring.”
On opening spring practice to fans
“I like going out to practice and seeing the fans there. I think generates an enthusiasm by our players. I think they sense how important it is to everybody and also the ability to concentrate and focus on the job at hand because that’s what we’re going to have to do. If I could, I would have everything open all the time, but unfortunately, somebody invented the Internet.
“That’s the thing that really has shut down practices. After you practice, someone goes home and says ‘such and such got injured today, looks like he might be out’ or in another respect, people get on line and say ‘this receiver looked terrible today and dropped five balls. I don’t see how he’ll ever play for Arkansas.’ Unfortunately, our players get on and read that and it certainly does affect some guys in different ways, so if there wasn’t that aspect of it, I’d have practice open all the time.”
On having contact/hitting in practice
“As much as they allow us to, we’re going to have. We need to hit. I think that’s the one thing where my understanding will be different, for our players, is they haven’t done a lot of live tackling or hitting. We need to do that. I’ve always had the philosophy that hitting is like tying your shoe. It’s just something you do every day. You get used to it and stay healthy because of it. We have to do some hitting every day. There’s no question about that.
“We will need the live tackling. We will need to find out a lot about ourselves. We need to find out about our running backs and that’s what we’re going to do on Saturday. This spring will be very physical. We’ll get a lot of live reps. Basically, you get three real scrimmages. One will be our Spring Game. Then you have a couple practices that you can have half-scrimmage, half-practice, so we’ll utilize every one that we can.”
On positions of interest
“Obviously, running back is one when you have the great running backs that just left where the guys behind them didn’t get a lot of carries or a lot of reps. We went back and pulled all of them (on tape) and watched them, but I think that’s something we’ll have to see how it plays out. I’m certainly looking forward to getting a couple of those rookies in here in the fall.
“I’m anxious to see how we do at receiver. Basically, we have the same thing. We have a lot of guys out there that are unproven and haven’t had a lot of game experience or catches in games, but we’ve been through that before. I just want to see which ones step to the front of the line and we’ll surprise you with a couple probably that will take off in spring and do really well for us.
“Defensively, I’d have to say the secondary. We graduated four starters. I’m anxious to see our corners. I’m anxious to see our safeties. It’s a lot of new as far as learning curve for the players with the zone coverages and some of the looks we do. We have to see how they adjust and how quickly we can learn that.”
On the quarterbacks
“It’s going to be fun to see how it plays out. Casey (Dick) will jump in there when we go with the first group. I’m going to give everybody an opportunity in there with the first group. It’s probably a unique situation when you have a younger brother and an older brother both playing the same position. I’m going to be interested to see how that works. They certainly will both compete for it.
“Alex Mortensen will be a guy I want to see how accurate he can throw the ball and how well he can throw the ball. I know he’s going to know what we’re doing. I know he’s going to know the offense. He wants to be a football coach so he has spent a tremendous amount of time trying to learn it.
“Then, of course, we have Ryan (Mallet) who we really don’t know anything new with his status and whether he’ll be eligible or not. We have to be conscious of the fact that he might not be there. Most of his snaps would come with the second team.”
On the response from the fans
“It’s been great. There have been great crowds at all the Razorback functions. In the response, people are excited. People want to see the ball in the air and thrown around a little bit. Obviously, we have to do both, but certainly people really want to see the ball in the air. We’ll throw it around as much as we can.”
On rebuilding at certain positions
“I knew there were a lot of seniors on the team and a lot of good players on the team like the two juniors that had a chance to come out. When I did go down and watch some of the guys on Pro Day, that’s when I got a little nervous because you would love to have all those fast guys back. No question about that, but in the same respect, you get excited about it because you know where they came from and you’ll be able to recruit there. It’s a give and take.”
On the offensive line
“I think (the offensive line) will be a strength of our team. I really do. You watch those guys work and you watch them run with the ability to change direction. They have size. I’d anticipate them to be a strength of our offense. We’ll need that. We’ll them to be strong. They’ll have to help with the protection and make sure the quarterback feels comfortable and establish the run.
“That’s a group that really excites me—our offensive and defensive lines. Sometimes it’s easier to recruit the other positions. I’d be a little more nervous if our depth was low on the offensive and defensive fronts, but I feel pretty good about it.”
On Jonathan Luigs
“The more I’m around (Jonathan Luigs) every day, the more impressed I am in his work ethic and his toughness. He’s definitely the leader of the group. There’s no question about that.”
On the Red-White Spring Football Game
“We’re going to line up with the ones on one team and the twos and threes on the other. We’ll play a regular first half with the exception of kicking. We’ll just have to punt the ball and fair catch it. We’ll line it up on the 25 or 30 instead of kicking off because we won’t be able to handle the kick off and the punts. There will be live tackling. We won’t hit the quarterback, but everything else will be just like a live game. In the second half, we’ll run the clock so we don’t get too many reps in.”
On Crosby Tuck
“His arm is recovered. It took him a little while, but I’ll tell you one thing, he works extremely hard. Over the last five or six weeks, he’s made a lot of strides with it. I was a little bit worried early when we got back from recruiting because it seemed like it was taking awhile but I think he’s real healthy right now.”
On players stepping up during off-season workouts
“(Jake) Bequette has impressed me with his hard work and his speed and agility. He made a lot of strides in the weight room. He’s put himself in the position physically where he’s ready to play. Kareem (Crowell) is doing a pretty good job. He’s a guy I’m familiar with. He actually signed with (Louisville) out of high school and then he went to prep school. We just need to get his weight down a little. He’s a little heavier than he needs to be. He’s working hard at that. He’ll be a guy that is in the depths, for sure I would think, on the offensive front.”
On Patrick Jones
“Patrick Jones is doing well. He tested well. His agility and his speed were something I was happy with. He’s a guy that works extremely hard. He’ll be a guy that gets a lot of reps. (Malcolm) Sheppard and (Van) Stumon will both get reps inside. We moved them to the three-technique tackle and they’ll both get a bunch of reps in there. It’ll be fun to see how they do.”
On the importance of this spring
“We’re going to learn a whole lot because we really don’t know a lot. We know how they work in the weight room. We’ve had some morning workouts where we work hard on getting them tired and see how they handle instructions and who can fight through the drills and finish. As far as football players, we don’t know a whole lot except for what we’ve seen on video from last year, so this has to be important. We have to make every day a good day. Every drill that we do, we have to work hard at and get better.”
On Antwain Robinson
“(Antwain Robinson) is working hard. He’s being quiet and doing things right. He’s going one step at a time. He’s a very, very talented young man. We just have to make sure he’s doing everything in the right direction and learning to be consistent in everything he does.”
“We’ve had guys that are starting to (take ownership of the team). Certainly, Luigs has done it. I love (Mitch) Petrus. He’s a tough guy that’s going to go as hard as he can. He’s done a great job in the weight room. I think, defensively, Forte has done that. There’s no question that he’s done some of that. I think (Adrian) Davis has done some on the defensive front. He’s a guy that we’re going to need to be a good leader mainly by example. He has to show that he can go out and practice hard every day and lead by example because he certainly has the ability to make a lot of plays for us.
“Secondary wise, I’m just waiting to see how it all plays out. (Jamar) Love has done as good a job as anybody in the off-season program learning how to finish and work hard. He’s a guy that looks the part—the size that you like, the testing and the speed."