With the attention in Razorback Nation focused on quarterback Brandon Allen's status, the Arkansas defense may be getting closer to full strength as the Hogs hit midweek with a physical practice Wednesday.
Otha Peters is sharing first-team reps at middle linebacker with Austin Jones after returning to contact about two weeks ahead of schedule. Safety Rohan Gaines is working behind Alan Turner at strong safety, trying to regain the speed of the game after missing two weeks with a bruised knee.
Defensively, the Hogs have worked this week during portions of the practice against the first team offense to take advantage of similar styles of play. Rutgers plays a smash-mouth style and features the power play, one of the base plays in the Arkansas offense.
"We always do some good on good each day and we've done that this week," said Charlie Partridge, defensive line coach. "But this week we get the benefit of working against an offense with similar philosophies and style as ours. We did a little more good on good with our first offense today.
"This is the first true power team on our schedule so this was a good week to get some time against our offense. There isn't the carryover as far as our defensive scheme and the Rutgers scheme, so you can't stay with that too long and we didn't."
Defensive coordinator Chris Ash said Peters is further along in his comeback from from a broken forearm than Gaines is at safety with the knee. Gaines played late in the game last week against Southern Mississippi.
"Rohan has been out there the last two days," Ash said. "But he missed a lot of time. He's gaining confidence with the knee."
Ash said Turner's progress at safety in place of Gaines warrants another start. Turner was gone Monday to attend his father's funeral
"But he's been at practice the last two days," Ash said. "We don't practice on Mondays. Yes, he'll start. He's done a good job and he deserves to start."
Ash said Peters had practiced over the last few weeks, but just not with full contact.
"Otha had trouble last week with that cast, wrapping up, and he'll improve there," Ash said. "He's been in the rotation this week in practice (with the ones)."
Peters said it's been split evenly in practice with Austin Jones. Linebackers coach Randy Shannon said Peters came back "about two weeks ahead of schedule." Peters said it was way too long of a wait.
"I don't like to sit out," Peters said. "I see the team winning and having fun and I wanted to be out there with them. I was hoping to get a few reps in these two games and be full go for conference."
Peters figures it's going to be his type of game at middle linebacker.
"It's power and play-action and that does simulate what we do on offense," Peters said. "I like that.
"Rutgers runs it and I think our coaches know I'm good against the run. I like this type of game, just a physical game to see who can stop who first. They have a back that is a big load to bring down."
For sure, it's going to be a type game that sits in the lap of the front seven.
"I think it does," Partridge said. "They have an impressive offensive line, an impressive running back in Paul James. I'd call them a pro-style offense, the power running. They finish their blocks and they have a running back who moves his feet after contact.
"Our guys are excited to play this style. It's truly going to take a team effort, though. We can't change the math, it has to be one-on-one and we have to do a great job of getting off blocks and match their physical play. Pad level will be important."
Defensive tackle Robert Thomas said, "That's what we want, a team that runs the ball. We look forward to it."
Defensive end Trey Flowers knows the load will be spread evenly across the front, but he sensed in practice what the game will be like and it's a big game for the defensive line.
"I think we are all slobbering at the mouth to get at this game," Flowers said. "We have to be in position to make plays up front. All of us.
"It's the same style as us, the power play is there. I know our inside guys expect a lot of power doubles. We worked on that."
Defensive end Chris Smith loves to rush the passer, but he knows the run game comes first this week against Rutgers.
"This week, we have to stop the run first," Smith said. "They can pass, too. Gary Nova, their quarterback, impressed me last year. The only sack we got was on intentional grounding. He gets the ball out of his hands quickly."
Linebacker Jarrett Lake said it's a simple game this week.
"I think it's about seeing what we are made of," Lake said. "And, I think it is up to the front seven this week."
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