Barely 20 minutes into the telecast, the Arkansas offense lined up against the Razorback defense for real-life football with only grey shirted quarterbacks exempt from knockdowns.
False alarm — no live tackling allowed Saturday inside Walker Pavilion. Disappointing for many watching on TV.
Alerted by the UA that the Red-White game would be replaced by a 24-period “scrimmage/practice” because of inclement weather, inclusion of the ”s” word suggested full-scale contact. With that in mind, the matchup between the experienced offensive line and the new-look defense was much anticipated even though defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads had said some new blitzes and certain coverage would not be seen and coordinator Dan Enos had put the quietus on some offensive innovations.
Still, at least one viewer tuned in to see, among other things:
—Who wins when 230-pound freshman running back Maleek Williams accelerates into a hole and is confronted by linebacker Dwayne Eugene or De’Jon Harris?
—Could Brandon Martin, the speedy No. 1 junior college receiver, get deep against double coverage, including the various backs getting a look at free safety?
—Does talented senior center Frank Ragnow need help against nose guard Bijhon Jackson or Austin Capps?
—Are tackles Colton Jackson and Brian Wallace quick enough to cut off split-wide, hard-rushing defensive ends McTelvin Agim or Armon Watts?
—Who among the new faces is most likely to replace Drew Morgan as Austin Allen’s reliable receiver?
—Who is next in line at tight end?
—The strong arm of Cole Kelley vs. the cerebral approach of Ty Storey in the competition for No. 2 quarterback.
With the ban on tackling, it was impossible to get a read on progress on any front so several questions still percolate after 15 practices. As long as the coaches know the answers, that’s really all that matters.
Personally, curiosity centers on the move from the 4-3 to the 3-4 and the seemingly endless tinkering with defensive personnel.
Michael Taylor and Karl Roesler have worked at both outside linebacker and end. Safeties Josh Liddell and De’Andre Coley have been plugged in at different spots in the secondary and Agim took some snaps at nose guard even though Jackson and Capps have been best at the position all spring. A tight end when spring practice began, sophomore Jamario Bell moved to outside linebacker and quickly advanced to the second team, progress that reflects both his talent and questions at the position. Others have practiced at both inside and outside linebacker.
Those are only the remembered experiments and the trial and error approach is likely to continue in August.
More than once during spring practice, Rhoads has talked about the need to play fast — code for doing the prescribed assignment without thinking. At one point, he even nixed some blitzes, etc., to free up players.
Advising a tentative golfer, one swing thought is the limit, according to my favorite golf instructor. In the same way, practicing at positions with different responsibilities could reduce a player’s aggressiveness. In light of that, the question is whether the No. 1 defense will be entrenched prior to the Aug. 31 season opener or whether TCU’s offense will expose some shortcomings on Sept. 9 and changes will occur during the bye week that follows.
For maybe the first time, there was some sympathy for an ESPN crew, obligated to a two-hour football telecast with no game to show. Before the network displayed a graphic identifying the periods of practice, ESPN analyst and former Razorback quarterback Clint Stoerner touted an “action packed” two hours.
Instead, the network sometimes employed a split screen to show the “action” and sometimes abandoned the on-field stuff, including interesting ball security trials and the less than compelling drill with quarterbacks throwing to uncovered receivers, in favor of interviews with former and current Razorbacks and others.
Those who bailed on the telecast later learned the No. 1 defense dominated the No. 2 offense. Anything less would have qualified as breaking news.
Harry King is sports columnist for GateHouse Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: email@example.com