There may be an expanded role for D'Arthur Cowan as Arkansas begins game week against Auburn. Head coach Bret Bielema said Cowan could add punt return duties after an impressive week of practice during the open date.
"Cowan had a great week," Bielema said Monday during his weekly media briefing. "He had his best practice Thursday."
Bielema also praised the practice work of wide receiver Keon Hatcher and offensive linemen Grady Ollison.
Cowan and Hatcher both had mistakes in the Alabama game, a 52-0 loss that put the Hogs 3-5 ahead of the 5 p.m. date with Auburn this week.
Javontee Herndon handled all of the punt return work in the first eight games, but Bielema said Cowan was involved in that battle in camp before sustaining a broken foot. Cowan returned in the Florida game, but has not been deep on punt returns.
"When he came back, the last thing we wanted to put on (Cowan's) plate was punt return," Bielema said. "During the bye week, we challenged him with that."
Ollison is full recovered from an ankle sprain sustained early in the season. Brey Cook moved ahead of Ollison over the last month at right tackle. Bielema said Ollison "had worked his way back up." Bielema also said linebacker Martrell Spaight, bothered by a knee injury, is full speed.
"Martrell hadn't played much the last two games, but he's back with us now," Bielema said.
There were some interesting discussions Monday about some missing video clips from the exchange with Auburn. Bielema brought it up when his first question mentioned the fact that Auburn and first-year head coach Gus Malzahn, an Arkansas native and former UA assistant, might be a rival.
"I really don't know Gus, but I know the history," Bielema said. "I've shaken hands with Gus twice."
Then, Bielema said, "On the video, I'll let the league office handle that."
The video? That was news to the media at his briefing. So there was a follow-up question on the video.
"The SEC will handle it," Bielema said. "There are some clips, the TV copy doesn't match the video copy. The SEC will handle it."
Pressed further, Bielema said the Arkansas coaches became perplexed when the first play of the Auburn-Florida Atlantic game was a "swing gate, but the video clip didn't show anything but when they lined up at the snap." In other words, they saw the start of the swing gate formation on the TV copy, but not on the tape sent from Auburn.
Bielema was asked if there were other similar examples in other games, but his only response again was to say the SEC office would handle it.
"I'm sure it's just a glitch," Bielema said. "With what Gus stands for, he does everything right. They'll take care of it."
Bielema said the open week provided a great opportunity to work on fundamentals that plagued the Hogs in the first eight weeks.
"We worked on ball security, tackling and special teams," Bielema said. "We looked hard at special teams and to break any tendencies that had developed."
Bielema said defensive leverage was a big focus, too.
"Like against Alabama, there were plays where we never got leverage," he said. "On one play, you saw five guys break inside. That allowed a scoring run when the back broke outside. We stress that the help is going to come from the inside if you maintain leverage. These are results that can be fixed. Also, we can modify some calls to do things that some guys do well."
Bielema said he's been impressed by the solid play by Auburn under Malzahn. One of the keys is turnover margin. Auburn is minus one. Arkansas is minus nine.
"The (minus nine) is very, very frustrating," Bielema said. "The defense can do a better job of capitalizing on turnovers. So many times, there is an opportunity when we watch tape of a blind side hit that can produce a fumble and there are a couple of chances where we could have had interceptions.
"Then, we have given up the ball on special teams, which can never happen."
Bielema said he's been impressed by Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, a junior college transfer. Marshall has passed for 1,148 yards and rushed for 461. The Tigers have four rushers over 450 yards, led by Tre Mason's 753.
"They are number one in the conference in rushing," Bielema said. "Marshall, he's valuable in the read zone, very efficient. And they are getting better."
Bielema said he "encouraged players to decompress" in the bye week.
"I think it was good," he said. "We also used it for our coaches to evaluate what we do."
There were 16 players who used their day off to help Habitat for Community to finish a house.
"DeMarcus Hodge used the off day to volunteer at a 5k run that benefited breast care awareness," he said. "He was there at 8 .m.
"We had our best academic report of the year on Thursday. It shows the arrows are pointing in the right direction."
Bielema said Korliss Marshall will continue to play offense down the stretch, but he worked as a safety in last week's developmental practice.
"We are counting him as a safety in our recruiting plans," Bielema said. "We need him on offense right now because he's just so powerful and we'll continue to use him in special teams."
Bielema was asked if the successes by Missouri and Auburn this year gives him hope for a quicker turn around at Arkansas for his new staff.
"Yes and no," he said. "Both are different. Missouri, that staff had been there a long time. Auburn is unique. They won a national championship in the last five years and had good players and Gus had success there before.
"What gives me hope is in this building, being around my coaching staff."
Bielema: Cowan Great in Bye Week
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