There were several moves to account for the loss of two coaches, and with another (Steve Caldwell) gone to attend his son's college graduation. Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson resigned on Monday. Outside linebacker coach John L. Smith took the Weber State head coaching post.
Kevin Peoples, who is director of high school relations, stepped in to handle the defensive line. With Bobby Allen moving to the secondary and Caldwell gone, People had the entire defensive front. His specialty before coming to Arkansas is the defensive line. He handled that in his previous job at Arkansas State.
"Reggie is our center piece right now," Allen said. No one mentioned the "interim" tag that is sometimes given when a coordinator is replaced for a bowl game.
There were a few players who missed the workout because of class conflicts. The team worked for over two hours in Walker Pavilion. Defensive end Jake Bequette said it was a hard, physical, fast workout. He didn't notice any changes despite the changes in coaching assignments.
"We didn't have adjustment days," Bequette said. "It was a hard practice. It was very intense."
Bequette said the Hogs rolled as usual on Thursday despite the coaching changes.
"It felt good to be back on the field after about a week and a half off," he said. "There were some class issues for some of the guys and we had coaches moving around to different spots. There was some shuffling, but our team has a lot of maturity and good leadership. We know what to do and it was the same practice. We've been doing it for awhile.
"We've got some leaders that know how to handle this situation. We have guys like Jerry Franklin and Jerico Nelson that did a good job of getting us going today. We can figure out how to get things handled (during a transition period with the defensive coaching staff)."
Bequette said Peoples handled the defensive line meeting room.
"He's a technician," Bequette said. "He knows his stuff. He has been in our meeting room before, more last year than this year. He was more with the offense this year. But we know him and he knows us.
"He's very experienced. He showed us some NFL cutups to show us some of the drills he wants us to do. It will help us out."
Nelson said it wasn't hard to be excited to be on the field, despite losing one of his mentors, Robinson and Smith.
"I was with Coach Smith for a couple of years at outside linebackers," Nelson said. "This year, I was more with the safeties, Coach Robinson. Those guys meant a lot to me.
"But by the same token, this is my last game to be a Razorback. It's very important to me. I'm so excited to have this chance to play one more game. The last game wasn't what we wanted. We wanted to get to that 11th victory and play in the championship game. But this is another chance to get to No. 11."
Bequette added, "Yeah, it's a chance to get to 11 wins, tying the most in school history. So that's the goal. The Cotton Bowl is a big deal and means a lot to our team and to me personally. We are excited to be playing this game and get to 11 ... we want to finish in the top 10 and make that our home at this point forward."
Bequette said not having the head coach wasn't a big deal because there was still a Petrino at practice.
"Coach Paul is experienced and he challenged us," Bequette said. "We also got challenged in the meeting room by Coach Peoples. He challenged the defensive front to conduct ourselves as veteran players like we are."
Nelson said the practice wasn't much different from other days on the field.
"We were in the same calls, the same fronts and the same packages," he said. "Coach Allen had the secondary and when the coaches were on the sideline, they all were giving us the calls. It was like every other practice."
Allen said it was an interesting day. He's coached all aspects of defensive play and has had several turns with safeties.
"Our kids gave great effort today," he said. "There was energy. They know what we are going to be doing is working to get better. That's our focus in these practices, to get better as individuals and as a team.
"I worked with the secondary and that was different. But it's not anything that I haven't done before. What I can tell you from today is that we stayed in the same things and we are working together as a staff. As I said, Reggie (Johnson) is going to be the center piece. We all understand what we are doing.
"It's all about day-to-day operation around here. We are going to put together what coach wants us to do and we've all had experience in a lot of areas."
Johnson called it " a good work day. Everyone was excited to be on the field and to be playing in the Cotton Bowl. We are excited as coaches and players. Today we just focused on getting better."