Wednesday Grid Update, 9/11

The Arkansas defense has hit on some of its goals early in the season. One of the big ones was to eliminate big pass plays.

No one is bragging about anything just yet, but some of the points of emphasis are getting done though two games. Defensive coordinator Chris Ash knows there is room for improvement, but he thinks his unit is headed in the right direction.

For instance, Arkansas has allowed only two passing touchdowns in the first week, the longest is 11 yards. There was a 31-yard completion on the wheel route early in the opener, but the long pass plays that have been a constant with the Arkansas defense in recent years are starting to disappear.

"We've got potential," Ash said. "We don't really want potential, though, we want performance."

It's clear that he thinks the best football for this Arkansas defense might be down the road, but he does like the early trend of fewer passing yards. The Hogs gave up 286 yards per game in the air last year. Louisiana and Samford have combined to average 154 passing in the first two games against the Razorbacks.

"That's about half of what they've been giving up," Ash said. "We know that things are going to get tougher and we have a long way to go. But for two games with an all new staff and new things, they've done alright."

There's been a rotation of three at cornerback with Tevin Mitchel getting the most snaps along with Will Hines and Jared Collins. It's been a mixed bag for those three in the first two games.

"We continue to progress and as they develop and we find out more what each one can do, we might can be a little more flexible," Ash said. "Right now, we are still learning strengths and weaknesses in games for each player.

"Number one, though, we wanted to cut down on the deep ball. We've done that so far. And as we move forward, maybe there are things we add. But we did not want to get beat deep.

"As far as the corners, all three have done some good things and some bad things. It's been about the same for all three.

"But, I think when you look at all of it, we are in a good spot and right on pace of where I thought we'd be at corner."

Have the calls been a little soft to protect the corners on the outside?

"I think what I'd say to that, I think we do know some of our strengths and weaknesses and we want to put our players in the best position to be successful," Ash said. "There are times where we are in your face out there. There are times we haven't been there. We did want to eliminate those big-play passes. We've done that.

"We want to do a great job of keeping the ball in front of us. We do have some calls that will bring some pressure. There are times in games to do that and be aggressive. I do think there are times where we've asked them to put more pressure on the outside and they haven't understood that. We'll do better as we move forward."

Ash has had all hands on deck at cornerback, but hasn't been so lucky in camp at safety. Rohan Gaines has had two different knee injuries and missed last week's Samford game with a bruise. He's still not full speed and will be game-time decision this week.

"He still is a ways away," Ash said. "We may not know until Saturday."

That probably means another start for Alan Turner at strong safety, who worked at free safety in camp until the week of the opener. Turner played last week despite losing his father to cancer on Friday night. Ash was amazed he played against Samford.

"We left it up to him, whether or not he played or not," Ash said. "He said, 'I'm playing.' He said he had two families and he didn't want to leave his football family. We know there is a time for him to go be with his family and grieve. He said he's playing this week, too.

"He did a great job in the game. He played just like he's practiced all along, with great effort. His execution was good, too. He did a nice job."

Mitchel didn't know what to expect when he learned that Turner's father had passed.

"To be honest, I'm not sure I could have done that," Mitchel said. "I don't know that I could have stayed and played like that. He took it like a man. I just said, 'Man, I don't know if I would do that.' If it was me, I don't know if I could have handled like he did. He didn't fold. He played really hard in the face of that."

Mitchel understands the secondary has not reached potential. Mistakes -- some of them his -- have cost the defense precious yards and field position. Mitchel had a late hit to help Samford with one of its touchdown drives.

"Each week we are going to play better teams, so we have to eliminate those mistakes," Mitchel said. "We can't have those.

"We have areas to improve. We've given up some plays. And this week we are going to face a team that likes to pass and will go to some screens and other things we haven't seen. We have to make sure our alignment and eyes are in the right places.

"I think we've been really good with not giving up the deep pass and a lot of credit goes to the defensive line. They've gotten pressure when teams have wanted to throw deep. There hasn't been time for the quarterback because our D-line has been in their face. That quarterback pressure is great for our secondary."

Defensive end Chris Smith said it's a combined effort.

"There have been times we've been slow to get there and the coverage has been there," Smith said. "We have to continue to clean up our pass rush. We have to be more consistent.

"I think what you see is what Coach Ash preaches, stop the big play. It takes a lot to stop the big play. It's backside pursuit, back end reads. All things trickle together to stop the big plays. It takes hard work in practice. It's not easy and we understand we aren't there yet. There's a lot going on to bring all of this together on this defense, eliminating mental errors."

Smith pointed out some hidden mental errors from late Saturday night, actually after the game.

"Yeah, some guys forgot their IDs," Smith said. "Those guys got to the airport to get on the plane to come home and they didn't have an ID. So they rode the bus. I had mine."

Trey Flowers said he was well rested for the trip back and doesn't want to happen again. The junior defensive end didn't play because of a knee injury. He said trainer Matt Summers locked away his helmet after pre-game warmups.

"I wanted my helmet back in the third quarter," said Flowers, who practiced full speed Wednesday. "I wanted to go get it when we were behind. They probably made a good decision by taking it away, because I'd gone on the field if I had it."

Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge said Flowers practiced well Wednesday.

"Trey didn't make it through all of it Tuesday, but he did today," Partridge said. "Obviously, he makes a difference when he's out there. You look at the production from the first game and you know he helps.

"I thought he looked good today. He's good to go."

Flowers said the only problem was his conditioning.

"I'd missed some time and I wasn't in game shape today, but I will be ready by game time," he said. "To go an entire practice today tells me I'm getting close to being ready again."

Head coach Bret Bielema said on his state-wide Wednesday night radio show that it appears true freshman Korliss Marshall and Melvinson Hartfield would both redshirt. Bielema said Keon Hatcher's improvement from the injury list makes it a little less of a need for Hartfield to play. The Hogs also hope D'Arthur Cowan returns at wide receiver in the next two weeks.

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