It was just a few days after John L. Smith had been introduced as the Arkansas head coach with a 10-month contract. There were all kinds of discussions in the media about the type of coach the 63-year-old Smith would be for the Razorbacks.
Some of the descriptions were varied. Some of the phrases included "old," "passionate," "tough" and "close to the players." The idea that he is quick to offer a pat on the back — or even a hug — produced some interesting discussions among fans.
The contrast after four years of Bobby Petrino were obvious. The Hogs had gone from tough to soft.
"Soft?" said sophomore defensive end Trey Flowers. "Soft? Oh, my; I get someone calling him old, but not soft. He is no softie."
Smith worked with outside linebackers and special teams the last three seasons at Arkansas. Flowers had plenty of drill work with Smith last August as a true freshman. The Hogs wanted to make sure Flowers couldn't make the switch to outside linebacker because of his speed and range. He was a bit undersized at end at 245.
"I had a lot of days with Coach Smith at outside linebacker," Flowers said. "There are some of our schemes where the ends drop into coverage so we got time with him in a two-point stance.
"Let me just say he's tough and he's definitely not anything in him that's soft. I saw that."
Neither is Flowers. He's quickly earned respect from all members of the Arkansas squad because of a fast motor and an incredible frame. He's filling out, too. He packed another 15 pounds onto his 6-4 frame that includes a 7-foot wing span. There are huge masses of muscle atop those shoulders and the arms are more like tree trunks now — long tree trunks.
Fullback Kiero Small likes what the Hogs have at end. He sees the development of young players like Flowers as a huge positive for the defense and the reason Tenarius Wright could move to linebacker.
"He's a dog," Small said. "That's what he calls himself. He plays like a dog.
"He's physical and only has one speed and that's fast. He likes to play fast. Just full speed ahead. He likes to play football. That's what you like about him."
Flowers had to grow up fast last year. He was thrown into the Alabama game when Wright broke an arm. With Jake Bequette out with a hamstring injury, there was no rest that week or the next against Texas A&M.
"He grew up in those two games, a lot," Small said. "I think he grew up all last season. He's ready now. He's ready to be more effective than he was last season. He knows more about the game. He knows what speed he has to play at in the games. He has more football intelligence."
Flowers was probably winging it in the A&M game. The Aggies were probably targeting the true freshmen with some perimeter plays, but the Hogs adjusted at halftime and turned off the spigot.
"That was the best thing I've ever been a part of," Flowers said. "The defensive coaches got a handle on what they were doing and we shut it down. We knew we had to figure it out and we did. It was a good feeling in the second half."
Small said he sees Flowers a lot in pass protection drills. His 7-foot wing span is tough on a fullback who may not stand more than 5-8 tall.
"I have to use my feet and keep them moving," Small said. "He's going to get his hands on you sometimes and you aren't going to be able to reach his body with yours. That's just going to happen. I try to get to him before that happens, move my feet and make contact. But he has the advantage with those long arms against me."
Flowers has the longest wingspan on the team — but not for much longer.
"Mine are the longest now, but there is a freshman coming in, Brandon Lewis," Flowers said. "He's got a 7-2 wingspan. We compared our (wingspans) when he was here on his visit. He's got me by about 2 inches. I guess I'll have to out jump him.
Flowers said those long arms come in handy in pass rush moves, not just when he jumps.
"There's a move called the longhorn," he said. "You get your arms out, and you get your hands on the other guy and make a move. He can't touch you. If you have the length on him, he's not going to get his hands on you and that's the big thing in pass rush moves. You can go around him with that move. We work on that in practice."
Those are wars in practice, but it's still friendly competition. There are jokes and laughs along the way.
"We have fun and know we are going to go against each other every day," Small said. "It's an everyday thing. If the pads are on, it's fullbacks hitting ends and linebackers. We laugh and joke."
It's hard to imagine anything about those collisions being something to joke about. Flowers didn't seem like a joker in a 30-minute interview. It's obvious he loves the game.
Watching him in the spring, he was a relentless pass rush specialist. Defensive coordinator Paul Haynes saw growth both in the physical aspect of the game with heavy lifting in the weight room during the winter. He added to his obvious physical gifts, those great arms.
"The great thing about Trey is his length," Haynes said. "He has long arms and a long wingspan, so he does a good job when he uses his hands. When you look at him, he did a great job in the offseason of getting stronger. He can do the things we talk about that we need those ends to do — being strong at the point of attack and doing a good job of putting pressure on the edge of the defense for us. I think when you talk about improvement with him is rushing the passer. He did a great job in the spring for us of rushing the passer."
Flowers said it's just a daily battle of getting better. That doesn't change whether there are practices or workouts in the weight room. The goal is to improve every day.
"That's our focus," he said. "I think we did get better as a defense this spring. And I think we are getting better in the weight room, too."
Flowers is confident, but he knows the instruction he gets from veteran defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell will add to his game.
"It's been a good learning experience," Flowers said. "It's been a good situation to be under Coach Caldwell, a lot of things to improve my game. He stresses that you have to be at a high level in practice because it's all about muscle memory. If you do it each day in practice, you will take that to the game. That's what we strive to do under coach Caldwell.
Flowers knew the Hogs had solid front liners at end when he arrived last summer for the offseason workouts. But he never thought about a redshirt.
"When I came in, I was working to play," he said. "I didn't put it out of my mind that I wasn't going to play. I tried to keep my work ethic up so I would be ready to play. If you don't slow down, you can play. Whatever happened, happened. I was ready for games."
Things didn't go well early. There was a broken bone in his left hand that forced him to wear a cast for much of the season. He was a one-armed end when his time came against Alabama in a game that brought many relatives to Bryant-Denny Stadium for the first time.
"I broke my ring finger on my left finger in the first game of the season," he said. "I had a splint type of thing. Had it on my whole left hand up above my wrist. I played quite a few games with it. I wouldn't say it slowed me down, but I did notice it was there.
Flowers became a starter after Wright went down with a broken hand early in the Alabama game. The Huntsville, Ala., product knew he was going to play against the Tide, but not every snap.
"I tried to treat it as just another game, but I have to admit that I have a chip on my shoulder when I play against Alabama," he said. "They didn't recruit me. I didn't grow up a fan of Alabama or Auburn. My brother played at Middle Tennessee so I was a fan of his, not those schools.
"I've had a mentality since I was young, you don't offer me, you better not play me. I definitely have a chip on my shoulder.
"I went to that game with a chip on my shoulder and an idea to prove something. I'm glad I am where I'm at."
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