The heat was on for practice Wednesday and so was the noise. Coaches and players thought all was handled in fine fashion as Arkansas gets closer to the opener of the Bret Bielema era with Saturday's game with Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns.
"Coach B is so amped up and so are we," said Rohan Gaines, sophomore safety. "It's going to be hot, maybe 98 on Saturday. But it was very hot today and we still fly around until the end. We had a good practice, the best we've had."
Defensive coordinator Chris Ash doesn't ever seem satisfied, but he did admit that it was a good day from start to finish on Wednesday.
"I thought yesterday was a little sluggish, but that's the way it is after a day off," Ash said. "Today was really good. So we made progress. We have to continue to build until the game. I would much prefer that Tuesday not be great. You want to work towards a peak on Saturday. We are doing that."
Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge said there aren't many great Tuesday practices. It's just the nature of the installation of the game plan versus the formations and alignments.
"We give them so much on Tuesday that they are never really at a peak," he said. "I want to hold judgment until I see video tonight, but I thought it was really good today.
"I think our guys know we are close to a game. They have a high tempo. It was hot today, but they handled it. I'm excited and I think they are, too. I think they feel good and are ready to carry that to the field."
Ash wouldn't commit to how many he'll play on Saturday, but said it would be plenty. He thinks the two deep is prepared to all play, although there might be definite rotations. Partridge was a little more specific in numbers.
Linebackers Austin Jones, Braylon Mitchell and Jarrett Lake -- the starters -- indicated that assistant coach Randy Shannon said "eight or nine would play" and the hot linebackers will get more snaps.
"I think we have eight to 10 ready in the defensive line," Partridge said. "I think we have five ends and five tackles prepared and might play. I think there are several reserve linebackers in the rotation and there are three corners and three safeties in the rotation.
"But today we walked off the field confident. We gave them crowd noise, they got heat and we created some chaos for them and they handled it all. Today I feel pretty confident we are getting better. We handled a lot of things well."
Ash confirmed those numbers in the secondary. He said Will Hines has emerged as the starter at one cornerback slot ahead of Jared Collins. Tevin Mitchel is the clear starter on the other side. All three will play plenty.
"Hines has been a little more consistent and gained an edge in camp," Ash said. "He's made a few more plays, but Collins has had a good camp, too. Collins will play plenty, too."
On his weekly radio show, head coach Bret Bielema mentioned the same freshman -- with the addition of comments that safety Korliss Marshall would perhaps play in special teams -- that he's raved about for the last four weeks, including superlative comments for tight end Hunter Henry and running back Alex Collins.
Bielema said Henry made four out of five catches to open the work Wednesday night in the two-minute drill. Bielema also noted the improvement made by wideout Eric Hawkins in camp, possibly the fastest player on the team.
Bielema also raved about tackles Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper on offense, along with wideouts Drew Morgan and Melvinson Hartfield. He praised linebacker Brooks Ellis, cornerback D. J. Dean and Marshall as other freshmen who would likely play in the opener.
Gaines didn't sound surprised when told that the head coach had been excited earlier at the day in front of the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club.
"I know this is his first game as an SEC coach and he wants it," Gaines said. "He's ready. We are ready. He's amped. We are going to be very excited when we get out there. I think you could see that today.
"I think we have come together as a team. We have great leadership. We have strong captains. I think the communication is great on this team and that goes for both sides of the football."
The opposition is talented. Gaines knows the Hogs face a fine run-pass operator in UL quarterback Terrance Broadway. There is a definite threat of the read option with Broadway along with the deep pass if the Hogs play too aggressively in the run.
"He's real good and he has a couple of tall guys at receiver he'll throw the ball up for and we have to contend with that on the deep ball," Gaines said. "He's a very talented athlete, but we know we have the best defensive line in the SEC."
Partridge said the threat in the read option is toughest on the perimeter where the defensive ends must contend with motion, crossing backs and misdirection.
"For our inside tackles, it's pretty much zone blocking," he said. "The ends, that's where the stress comes in that offense. They do a lot of things to confuse you. It's a very good offense. They have backs going different directions. They have what we call robber backs coming across the formation and that's tough on ends."
Safety Eric Bennett, the lone senior starting in the secondary, feels like the Hogs are prepared for the Ragin' Cajuns.
"They are good," Bennett said. "The quarterback is talented and so are the backs. They do things to make you stay at home to play run and then they hit you deep. He's a runner so our rushers have to stay in their lanes. He's going to take off and hurt you with his feet if you are too aggressive. So the idea is to keep him in the pocket."
Bennett appears to be the lead man in the punt return game. He said that wasn't in the plan until several wideouts picked for that spot began to go down with injuries, D'Arthur Cowan and Demetrius Wilson in particular.
"I think it was when we were fielding punts I was standing around and so I went back there and started catching them," Bennett said. "I think Coach B liked it. I wanted to do it. If you are on defense, the main thing you want is for someone to catch it so you don't have to go back out there on defense. So I wanted to get them caught."
Bennett played quarterback in high school and had some running inclinations, but he's not returned punts.
"Kickoffs, yes, in high school," he said. "A few kickoffs. Never punts. My freshman year here I got put back there to catch them, but we had Joe Adams and I wasn't needed much for that. I have made plays on offense. I think I went 80 a few times on offense in high school.
"I have some offensive ability from high school, but what I'm back there is to get them caught. If I can catch them, then I'll think about running with it. Get 'em caught and get the defense off the field, that's what I want. I feel good about it. I'm ready to go live."
Bennett said that's the feeling across the board.
"I think we do have something to prove," he said. "We want to show everyone where we are right now. We want to get turnovers and fly around."
Wednesday Grid Update, 8/28
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