Don't rule out true freshman cornerback D.J. Dean as a starter in place of injured Arkansas defender Will Hines on Saturday when his team hosts No. 14 South Carolina at 11:21 a.m.
Razorback head coach Bret Bielema said on Wednesday's SEC Teleconference that Dean was in the mix along with redshirt freshman Jared Collins and junior college transfer Carroll Washington.
"It is really three guys," Bielema said. "Not only Collins and Washington, but a chance for DJ Dean as well to get some reps.
"Will was playing really good football there at the end, made a couple of plays Saturday that he had been coached up on and done a nice job of building himself into so that's disappointing," Bielema said. "As in every case every year, it's the next man."
Much like junior Tevin Mitchel got his opportunity due to an injury to someone else when he was a freshman, these three guys have a shot to make an impression while Hines is out.
"Jared Collins brings the most experience here at Arkansas, Carroll Washington is obviously a junior college player and has done quite a bit in the world of junior college football, just not much at the line of scrimmage," Bielema noted.
"D.J. Dean is a young man who we signed as a freshman out of Newton, Texas that has really been exciting for us to see him grow every week," Bielema said. "So it is a nice opportunity for each of those three guys and we will make a decision on Thursday after practice to see who is going to get the nod on Saturday."
Whoever gets the nod will no doubt be tested by South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, who was 17-of-20 for 240 yards in last week's 35-28 home win over Kentucky.
He came back from an injury the previous week with the outstanding effort four South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier and that was duly noted by Bielema.
"I can tell you this, he is as good as anybody we have seen so far," Bielema said. "He is very, very efficient in how he manages their offense. Obviously Coach Spurrier has had a long history of great quarterbacks and this guy should fall right in line with that.
"He is competitive and the one part that is probably deceiving is that he runs the ball and how well he throws the ball," Bielema added. "The combination of that together presents a really unique challenge.
"I think he understands what the game plan is and is a competitor," Bielema continued. "I think when you get a guy injured and they say he is going to be out for two-to-four weeks and he comes back in week one, you obviously have somebody that loves to play the game.
"Excited to face him, but on the same account know the tremendous challenge that brings," Bielema said.
Spurrier believes Shaw is underrated because the Gamecocks don't run a pass-happy spread offense as some in the league do.
"He sure does get overlooked," Spurrier said. "I don't know if we have done a super job of promoting him...Most people are enamored with touchdown passes instead of running for three touchdowns or running for four touchdowns. We feel pretty about running the ball in. Mike Davis has got a lot of touchdowns. We throw it a lot to get down there, but then we run it in so his touchdown passes are not there.
"But he is a heck of a player who can run with the ball and avoid the bad plays," Spurrier added. "He is pretty good at avoiding fumbles and careless plays and all this, that and the other. And that is why we have won a bunch of games. We are not winning by dominating anybody.
Spurrier was quick to point out that the important thing was to win the game, not just see how many points you can score.
"To me it's kind of interesting, those up-tempo teams they don't always win," Spurrier said. "I know their coaches are always bragging about how fast they want to go and this, that and the other and it is helpful every now and then. We'll get up there and snap it.
"But we are not interested in how fast we can score," Spurrier added. "With these up-tempo teams, if there defense is not a great one, I don't see that it is a real advantage in going real fast and making your defense play a whole bunch.
"You can try to win 24-21 or you can try to win 55-50," Spurrier continued. "I think Bret and I somewhat agree that maybe 31-21 or 24-17 would be fine. Some coaches want to see how many points they can score – which is wonderful if you can do that and win. The object of the game is still to win and there are different ways to do it."
Spurrier updated the injury status of star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who sit out last weekend.
"Jadeveon is going to try and practice a little bit today and hopefiully by the weekend he will be able to help us out a bit," Spurrier said. "We had a situation that wasn't handled very well by all of us here. We didn't use the proper protocol of a player going to a trainer, but he was hurt with a muscle strain in the rib area, Hopefully it will go away and he'll be able to play this week."
"We're looking forward to goig out to Arkansas – a place we haven't won in a long time," Spurrier said. "They have outplayed us every time we've got there since '05 – and they actually outplayed us that day, but somehow we squirmed around and beat them 14-10.
"It will be difficult – good team, well-coached, all that kind of stuff," Spurrier said. "We have got to play better. Our defense has struggled the last two games and hopefully we can put it together and make some stops and try to improve as the season progresses."
Spurrier remembered some words former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino took at the Gamecocks after one game.
"It's loud and they have outplayed us," Spurrier said. "I think the last time we we were there – it was like Bobby Petrino said – they could have scored 65 on us that night. But they dropped passes all over the place, dropped touchdowns and we somehow got it to 30-28 and they ran the kickoff back midfield and scored that possession and put it out of reach. Our defense struggled mightly that night and they score 40-something, but could have scored 60."
Besides Hines, Bielema believes all the players that took the field last week should do so again this week.
That includes senior center Travis Swanson, quarterback Brandon Allen and tailback Jonathan Williams.
"Travis practiced yesterday and handled the practice and feels okay today so we will continue to move forward," Bielema said. "You just worry with him about a setback, but he is full-speed ahead.
"There also wasn't any regression out of Brandon Allen, a guy who just continues to show his toughness," Bielema added. "He obviously took a couple of licks on Saturday – a couple of them in the course of play and a couple of them after plays with a number of calls that were personal fouls that were tacked on.
"So you know he is a defenseless player then and you worry about his health and safety, but he has battled back well," Bielema continued.
"At the running back position, J-Will was a little hampered with the ankle," Bielema said. "He has been full speed through the course of the week."
Bielema noted that his team was in a brutal stretch without an off-date - something 12 of the 14 SEC teams have had.
"We had a number of guys that battled through with injuries and I kind of told them on Saturday that we would take it easy on them on Sunday and Monday and Tuesday they need to get themselves healthy to get back out there and practice. The majority of them did, we'll get a few more today that had bumps and bruises and I couldn't be happier with the way they are attacking and trying to keep their body healthy for a very, very long eight-week run."
"You know this is our seven game in a row without a bye week and there is only one other SEC team that has fonwe through the same thing so we have to be very, very smart about how we are practicing and how we handle game recovery," Bielema said.
This game marks Homecoming on campus at Arkansas this week.
"It is going to be a great week for us here," Bielema said. "It is obviously a Homecoming week for our entire university and welcome back alumni and fans from all different ages and all backgrounds.
"It is exciting to get into our home stadium with an early kickoff against South Carolina, a tremendous football team – our third in a row of high quality SEC opponents."
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