FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas linebacker Martrell Spaight and the rest of his teammates have been waiting patiently.
They understand the importance of the process. There are fundamentals to perfect, a playbook to install and much-needed evaluation time by the coaching staff. But after going through five spring practices, they’re relieved its time to scrimmage.
“It’s going to be fun to finally go out and hit somebody,” Spaight said. “We’re looking forward to it. Our intensity is going to be really high. It’s going to be a great time.”
Arkansas will take the next step in the spring on Saturday, holding a scrimmage in Razorback Stadium beginning at 11:45. The Razorbacks’ sixth spring practice — which also is open to the public — will feature their first full-contact work.
The scrimmage is the first chance for new coordinator Robb Smith to evaluate his players in a game-like situation. So Smith said he and the rest of the coaches are eager to see how everyone performs after getting five practices under their belt.
“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.
“We get a chance to play different downs and different distances and different situations and watch our guys play for the first time in a scrimmage setting.”
So far, the spring has been loaded with fundamentals and installation. It included Thursday’s work, when both sides of the ball concentrated on third-down situations.
Arkansas’ defense showed a handful of new wrinkles during the open practice. One of them included safety Alan Turner, who lined up as an inside linebacker and timed blitzes up the middle, battling with the interior of Arkansas’ offensive line.
Linebacker Braylon Mitchell also put his hand on the ground as a defensive end in the nickel package, while ends like Deatrich Wise moved into the middle to give Arkansas more speed at the line of scrimmage.
“There’s a lot of different looks we can give the offense to try to confuse them so we can make some plays,” Turner said. “We’ve got a few plays where we’re blitzing with some different looks. Right now it’s going real well. I like how it’s coming along.”
Smith said Arkansas’ defensive goal is to “mix it up” with a variety of possibilities. He believes there has been plenty of progress after a practice that featured its share of deflected passes and defensive stops during the third-down work.
“I think the most important thing is our guys are competing,” Smith said. “There’s been a lot of good things offensively. There’s been a lot of good things defensively to this point in practice. Hey, you’re going to win some reps. You’re going to lose some other ones. But I like our attitude at this point in time. We’re able to go back on things we’ve already installed and be able to recall those things and now try to polish them up and get them to where they need to be come fall.”
The scrimmages will give the Razorbacks a chance to test one of the team’s biggest weaknesses last season: tackling.
Arkansas gave up its share of big plays by blowing opportunities to get opponents on the ground. It has been an emphasis of the offseason and the Razorbacks will get a chance to test their improvement with Saturday’s scrimmage.
The only offensive players off limits to tackles are quarterbacks.
“The biggest thing is that it comes now to who is going to take the guy to the ground,” Arkansas linebacker coach Randy Shannon said Thursday. “Who is going to make the crucial situation when it’s a third-down-and-6 and he catches the ball at four? Are you going to be able to knock him back and get him down for that four-yard gain and you’re off the field? Or is he going to be able to get two more yards? That’s going to be the big thing that we’re trying to understand and trying to get done.”
The opportunity has been a long time coming for Arkansas’ players.
So Spaight said he and his teammates plan to take advantage of it Saturday.
“Not being able to hit each other, there’s been a lot of built-up intensity and frustration,” Spaight said. “We’re all ready to hit somebody.”