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November 12, 2008The Razorbacks are on a bye week, and they got an early 3 p.m. start inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium today for the longest and most physical practice in weeks.
The Hogs had a short day Tuesday in the Walker Pavilion as the older players watched film of last weekend's 34-21 loss at South Carolina while the younger players worked for just over an hour. Razorback coaches were disappointed in several aspects of the game, but nothing more than their lack of physicality.
"We're an awfully soft defense, especially in the third and fourth quarter where we need to sit down there and strap it up and keep the game close," defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said. "We were a play or two away from turning that game around in the fourth quarter, and we weren't able to finish it. The physical part of it, that's something that we're going to expect all the time, and what we did on Saturday was unacceptable."
Robinson said the team has not fully bought into the philosophy of the new coaching staff.
"Not quite there yet. I think we have about probably 80 percent of the guys have bought into it, really have, primarily our younger kids and underclassmen," he said. "You know, it's a tough transition for those seniors who've been in a system all this time and all of the sudden are facing this. We've got a few of those kids that are buying into it because those are basically the leaders that have worked their way up through the ranks, but we're not quite there as a 100 percent like we need to be."
Defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard, who led the team in tackles Saturday and also recorded 2 sacks, is one of the older players who has bought into the system. Sheppard said the bye week gives the young players an opportunity to get more individual coaching as well as an opportunity to grow in the schemes.
"It gives them time to compete with each other," Sheppard said. "They're the future, so it gives them time to scrimmage and let the coaches see how much they've progressed during their red shirts."
Strongside linebacker Freddy Burton plays a great deal but is also a young player. The 2007 graduate is only in his second season at Arkansas.
"As you get used to the coaches, you definitely adjust and get used to his ways of coaching. I think we're coming along," Burton said. "Practice is definitely more physical."
Burton is one of many young players who have been counted on for minutes, a group that also includes many true freshman.
"We've got a lot of young guys on the field, and they've pulled through it," junior safety Matt Harris said. "I don't want to say a 'risk-taking staff, but they put a lot of confidence in young people very quickly, but no one's buckled under pressure this year."
Some of the players who haven't been counted on for playing time but have shown promise this week and throughout the season, according to Robinson, are linebackers Jelani Smith, Tenarius Wright and Khiry Battle, defensive backs Greg Gatson and Chris Raggett and defensive tackle Alfred Davis.
"We've got some kids we don't know if they're quite where they need to be position-wise," Robinson said. "Matt Marshall's kind of an example of that. Might grow into being a linebacker for us, and he's working at safety."
On the injury front, tailback Michael Smith (shoulder/entire body) has the week off to get his shoulder back in shape and to give his legs some rest. He will return Tuesday as the team focuses more on Mississippi State. Quarterback Casey Dick (concussion) did not practice, but offensive guard Grant Cook (knee) did. Another player who returned from a knee injury was defensive end Adrian Davis.
"He's out there doing some individual work, and I think we'll have him for the Mississippi State game," fellow defensive end Jake Bequette said.
Arkansas will hit the practice fields again Thursday and will be off Friday and Saturday. There may also be practice on Sunday, but the team may do film study instead.