FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Cool temperatures and damp conditions forced the Arkansas football team inside the Walker Pavilion for the second straight day on Friday, but first-year head coach Bobby Petrino was again pleased with what he saw.
Arkansas’ second practice of the spring lasted around two hours with the Razorbacks working out in helmets and shorts.
Petrino was pleased with the same tempo he saw in Thursday’s first practice, especially with more of the playbook thrown at the players.
“I was happy that we didn’t slow down,” he said. “We inserted more offense, we inserted more defense, and we kept our tempo pretty well. I think we improved some, technically. I think the quarterbacks are making strides in their technique, and that helps.”
One reason the tempo remained high is because that was a point of emphasis, especially on defense.
“One thing we really wanted to emphasize today defensively was running to the football,” Petrino said. “We wanted to run full speed and we did that. Now we just need to practice a little smarter and keep each other off the ground. I thought we were on the ground a little too much today.”
Running back is a position to watch where junior Michael Smith is the top returnee with junior Brandon Barnett competing for carries, but sophomore Chip Gregory is drawing attention after moving to the backfield from linebacker.
“We’ve got basically three guys that are working a lot in there,” Petrino said. “Michael Smith has been very impressive to me with his quickness and his speed. It seems like he’s a very fast learner. He’s picked up everything.
“I like what I’ve seen from Brandon Barnett. He’s done a real nice job with his pass protection. He’s able to catch the ball and he’s shown some quickness running the ball.
“I like the looks of Chip Gregory when he’s lined up back there. That’s a big back. He’s still just learning the position. He’s still a little uncoordinated right now. He’s stumbling at times, but it’s all new to him. I think he’s going to be a lot of fun to watch when we put the pads on and see how he does when it’s live tackle.”
Gregory was one of three players Petrino considered moving to running back, along with redshirt freshman linebacker Jerry Franklin and sophomore linebacker Ryan Powers.
“I was looking for someone on the team that had experience playing running back in high school, that was big and athletic,” he said. “I observed them in the weight room and in quickness drills for a couple of weeks and made the decision to go with Chip. I’m certainly not going to take away from Powers, because he would have been a good one and I like what he’s doing at linebacker, and I found out that Franklin really wasn’t a running back in high school. He really played more tight end, so it was easy to eliminate him from that mix. We understood their history, how many yards they had and watched them work out. We were going to move somebody, it was just a matter of whom. I think we picked the right guy.”
As a senior at American Heritage Academy in Allen, Texas, Gregory ran 35 times for 503 yards and seven touchdowns, and caught 13 passes for 274 yards and four more TDs.
“He’s got to get back to instincts because he’s been away from it for a couple of years,” Petrino said. “He will learn the offense. He’s a good learner and he’s really motivated, but he’s going to have to get to a point where he’s back and let his instincts and his vision take over.”
The Razorbacks practice again on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Saturday’s session is the first in full pads.
“We still need to practice hard and see some tempo,” Petrino said, “but we need to put the pads on and see who likes to hit and who doesn’t.”
Arkansas Red-White Spring Game is scheduled for Saturday, April 26, at 6 p.m.