Arkansas players voted on captains this week. The results were not surprising, except to one of the captains. Robert Thomas didn't see it coming when he was announced along with fellow defensive lineman Chris Smith and center Travis Swanson and fullback Kiero Small on offense.
Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge saw it coming. He said the voting wasn't close and reflects the way Thomas, senior defensive tackle, has practiced and performed in the offseason program since the new staff assembled in January.
"That's a great honor for those young men and you know that every one of them deserved it with the way they have worked and performed," Partridge said. "When I got here, he was one of the first to come to me. He came in my office and said, 'I want to be coached.' He was so hungry.
"I've seen him grow as a person and a player. The team sees that and recognized him as one of four captains. They vote that, not me. But I agree with them.
"Robert has great talent. He's added to his fundamentals and technique and gotten an understanding of what we are doing across the front. We play as one unit. We know what each other are doing and that's going to make it so much easier to make adjustments each week to game developments and game plans.
"I'm proud of this bunch for the way they've learned and improved football IQ. They work as one group. There is a huge focus in what we do as playing together across the front and you see it coming together.
"I'm proud of the way Robert has led. He's had a great camp. But he's been focused and ready to lead and work since the day I got here. I've seen it from day one. The players see it every day, too. Really, it's an honor for me to coach this front. All of them have done very well. I think it's a special group. I've thought that for some time."
Thomas said he did the research about Partridge on the Internet when he was announced as Arkansas defensive line coach by Bret Bielema.
"You look and see the guys he put in the league, that gave me an idea that I had a tremendous opportunity," Thomas said. "I was so excited. He's coming here? I loved it. I knew what it meant for me and the rest of our defensive linemen."
What does it mean to be elected captain by teammates?
"I have so much respect for everyone here, so that's a great, great honor," Thomas said. "I thank God for it. I don't know that I can do anything different, but I will try. I think I'm already trying to do my best for them."
What will it be like to walk to the middle of the field for the opener against Louisiana for the coin flip?
"Wow, I can hardly imagine that," he said. "I do know that's going to be a great honor. I had not thought about doing that.
"I don't think it's going to change me, though. My goal is to be Robert every day. I'm going to be the same Robert and work as hard as I can. I do think I understand the game a little more now. I'm trying to play exactly what Coach Partridge wants me and we are playing together. So I hope it doesn't make me do anything other than what I've leaved from last spring and this camp as far as playing within the system."
Thomas was asked if the defensive line has pressure to live up to as the so-called strength of the team?
"I don't think we look at ourselves as the strength," he said. "I think we know we have a nice front four, but the thing we have to do is go on the field and play. We are ready to go get it in games.
"I do think there is more talent on this team than some believe. I think we will be ready for the first game. We think the sky is the limit."
Junior defensive end Trey Flowers, who Partridge said also got some captain votes, said it's a matter of how well the line plays together not the individual talent.
"I don't think we look at how we might be graded against other defensive lines," Flowers said. "We don't compare ourselves to others. I just know my defensive line has come together. We will matchup with everyone. We just improve ourselves day by day and that's the goal."
Flowers thought the captain vote for Thomas was "well deserved. He's had a tremendous camp. So has Chris. Really, everyone up front has performed well.
"But it's no surprise to me that Robert is a captain. He pushes himself and his teammates every day. Big Robert, he's had a great offseason in the weight room. He's the same every day. He's pushed this team and led."
Linebacker coach Randy Shannon has been pleased with development in his group, but he is glad for another week of camp.
"I want every day I can get," he said. "We'll be much better with another week. We've moved guys around a lot this camp and we may move them some more. We want to find as many guys who can play different spots as possible."
Otha Peters went down last week to reduce the linebacker depth. Shannon wants to be prepared if there are more emergencies.
"I think that's the goal, get as many guys ready as possible," he said. "It's a long, hard season. You want to be ready for everything. So we've cross trained guys.
"I'm really not so much trying to find three guys at one position and three backups, as I'm trying to find five or six men who can play linebacker. Our linebacker positions are not so much different from each other. If you can play linebacker, you can probably play all three. The calls are not so much different.
"What we have are outside linebackers and mike linebackers. If you are an outside backer, you probably can play will and sam. They just play more in coverage on one side or the other. We just want to keep finding more. Things happen.
"I think we've come a long way from the spring and we hope to cover some more ground in the next eight days."
Individually, Shannon was asked about Jarrett Lake, Brooks Ellis and Martrell Spaight.
"Lake has been fun to coach," Shannon said. "He has fun in practice. He plays with emotion. He chases the ball and plays with effort. He leads us by example.
"Martrell, we are trying to get him set on all three spots. He's done well. I hope he can play will, sam and mike. We are still trying to find out which one he plays the best and that's the goal with all three.
"Martrell has produced some collisions. We are pleased because they are all legal hits. We don't want the 15-yard penalties or ejections. So we are pleased with the way he plays.
"Brooks Ellis is doing well. He's a freshman so he makes mistakes, but he is also very talented. He's getting better every day.
"We are getting better, but fortunately we still have quite a few more days to work and learn. We are still a long way from the season in my mind."
Thursday Grid Update, 8/22
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