Hogs put practice behind, gear for opener
FAYETTEVILLE — With Tuesday’s closed practice, the Arkansas Razorbacks ended their longest preseason practice preparations before their season opener.
New NCAA rules outlawing two-a-day practices so extended preseason drills that Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks have practiced since July 27 in Fayetteville heading into Thursday night’s season-opener against Florida A&M at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium. (Kickoff is 7 p.m. on the SEC Network.) It seems the Razorbacks champ at the kickoff bit. “I think we all are,” tight-ends coach Barry Lunney said. “We’ve been seeing each other kind of an abnormal number of days. So I think we’re ready to go against somebody else. And then obviously the last time we were on the field as a team (losing 3524 to Virginia Tech after leading 24-0 at halftime) it was a very disappointing outcome. We’ve still got a bad taste in our mouth. So we’re looking forward to getting out for the first game of ‘17.”
Bus rides: They start their season taking the
200-mile bus ride from Fayetteville to Little Rock but that beats the nearly 11 hours and 673 miles busing Florida A&M from Tallahassee to Little Rock.
Florida A&M coach Alex Wood, a former NFL offensive coordinator, knows well the comforts of first-class air travel for long trips including his
2006 and 2007 Arkansas seasons assisting former Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt. Now into his third year at Florida A&M, he’s accustomed playing the hand dealt at the financially strapped lower-division (FCS) school.
“It is what it is,” Wood said. “Teams do it all the time. They get off that bus and get stretched and get ready to go. Whether you are flying or driving it doesn’t really matter. It’s a matter of just going on the road and having a chance to have a good performance, hopefully a winning performance.”
Thursday crowd: The Rattlers of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference routed Texas Southern,
29-7 Saturday in Tallahassee.
So they have momentum and maybe catch a break that the War Memorial Stadium crowd could diminish kicking off Thursday night.
“I don’t know how much Thursday night is going to affect it,” Wood said. “But still it will be a great atmosphere to play in. Generally it’s always been a good crowd in Little Rock and that’s what we anticipate. Obviously we face a very good team. I know they have yet to play this year but when you have good personnel usually you produce a pretty good football team. Our guys won’t have any issues getting cranked up for the game, that’s for sure.”
Injuries: The Razorbacks certainly should be cranked although wide receivers Jared Cornelius (back) and T.J. Hammonds (knee) might not turn their game-day cranks until Arkansas’ next game, Sept. 9 against TCU at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Both were removed from the 105-man preseason roster because of their injuries and didn’t resume drills on a limited basis until the roster expansion accompanying the Aug. 21 start of UA fall semester classes.
“I bet you it will go all the way until kickoff,” receivers coach Michael Smith said of Cornelius and Hammonds. “If they’re feeling good, we’re going to let them go.”
For starters, Smith relies on three instaters, third-year sophomores Deon Stewart of Hardy Highland and La’Michael Pettway of Nashville and redshirt freshman Jordan Jones of Smackover, with junior-college transfer Jonathan Nance also in the rotation.
Catching up: To redshirt or not to redshirt is the decision that Bielema and Smith must make on promising true freshmen Koilan Jackson of Joe T. Robinson, Jarrod Barnes of Cabot and De’Vion Warren of Monroe, La.
Saving a fifth-year of eligibility for one or more of the rookies could depend on Brandon Martin, the most touted along with tight end Jeremy Patton of Arkansas’ 2017 junior-college transfers but impaired this preseason by a bad back.
“He looks like he’s running a whole lot better,” Smith said. “I think his back is finally starting to feel
up to par. He’s caught the ball well this week.”
Senior starting quarterback Austin Allen concurs.
“He may not be where he expected to be yet but he’s going to be there,” Allen said. ‘Might not be Week 1, might not be Week 2 but you can see that light turning on slowly. Once it gets really turned on he’ll be a really good player.”
Hurricane havoc: Because remnants of Hurricane Harvey could bring rain Thursday to Little Rock, the Razorbacks worked wet ball drills Monday and Tuesday.
Allen said the Razorbacks have commiserated with running back Devwah Whaley, Beaumont, Texas, and defensive lineman Brandon DePrato, Cypress, Texas, as their families hunkered down in the Houston area flooded by the hurricane.
“They are hanging in tough,” Allen said. “I’m sure they want to be back and helping them out but their families are keeping them focused and telling them they are fine. Our prayers go out to the people in Houston.”