Tuesday Grid Update, 11/26

Arkansas coaches have grown fond of working with center Travis Swanson and fullback Kiero Small. With the season coming to an end Friday at LSU, coaches are going to enjoy their final workouts with these seniors and others.

It's the final go-round for seniors like Kiero Small, Travis Swanson, Chris Smith, Eric Bennett and others. It's tough for head coach Bret Bielema to see them go out the door after just 11 months around them. Sometimes you see the Arkansas head coach get misty eyes when you mention these stalwart seniors.

Bielema did that several weeks ago when talk of them playing their final game in Fayetteville, again last week for the final game in Little Rock and you could see him headed that way Monday when questions came up about them playing their final game in an Arkansas uniform when the Hogs go to LSU for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff Friday.

"I had no idea of the blessing that was waiting on me with guys like Travis and Kiero," Bielema said, responding to specific questions about those two captains.

"I think they can play (in the NFL), and I think Travis might -- if he does well at the Senior Bowl -- might be drafted no less than the second round.

"As far as Kiero, there aren't a lot of teams that use a traditional fullback, but there are still some of those in the NFL. I think he's got a chance, too."

Regardless, it's players like Swanson and Small that have a future in coaching, according to Bielema.

"I'd hire them back in a heartbeat, because they'll be great coaches," Bielema said. "I hope they have a long time in the NFL, though."

Swanson will start his 50th straight game as a Razorback. He had a redshirt year four years ago. But before that, he started every game as a junior and senior in high school. To his knowledge, he's never missed a game.

"Knock on wood," he said, leaning over and tapping on a wooden podium. "I think I'll start Friday, unless (offensive line coach Sam) Pittman gets upset at me.

"It's funny, you think this is the last time I'll meet with ya'll here. And all this. I'm trying to hold it in as good as I can. You never know. Honestly."

There are four days left before game day, but each memory is a "last time" situation for everything. He was standing in the interview room still in full pads, for the last time after a UA practice.

"That was my last full pad practice here as a razorback," Swanson said. "Tomorrow is my last actual practice. It's the little things that go into it. this time next week, I'll be looking back on it. dang, wish I could go back."

There is nothing difficult to look back on because Swanson said he enjoys every chance he gets to don a Razorback helmet, in games or practices, no matter the result.

"I've been able to enjoy every second of it," he said. "Obviously, this year, I'm so thankful for so many things. Obviously, this new coaching staff has just done wonders, I think, not only with me individually, but laid the foundation of this program for the years to come."

Small laughed a bit when told of Swanson's potential to start 50. Could he imagine?

"Well, I went to a military school, then junior college, so I wasn't here for all of those," Small said. "But I can imagine him doing it. He's out there for everything.

"That's a lot of games, 50. That just speaks to the desire Travis has."

Small's desire is huge, too. He had the funniest line of the Tuesday night session when asked if he would be intimidated by the largeness of Tiger Stadium, the so called Death Valley.

"Me?" Small said. "Come on. You know me."

What about the younger members of the team?

"We do have a young team," Small said. "But that's a good thing. They don't even know they are supposed to be intimidated. Sometimes being young is a good thing."

Small is proud to be on the start of the Bielema era. The coach said Small came to see him last week, worrying about the coach.

"Yes, I did," Small said. "But he made it clear pretty early that I shouldn't worry. He said he'd have more years. What matters was us right now.

"As far as concerned for him, I know now not to be. I will say this about these coaches, they have given nothing but their best. That's what it's been inside these walls, nothing that the best for us every day. They prepared us like we hadn't lost a game. I think everyone on this team -- especially these seniors -- realize that something is being built here."

Bielema said there are two stories playing out this week at LSU. One is the seniors, but he also sees a bright future with young players at Arkansas.

Freshman offensive guards Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper will get to tangle with elite defensive linemen that dot the LSU front. Kirkland was mentioned by Bielema for his efforts last week against Mississippi State.

"Denver had a very good game last week," Bielema said. "Those two kids have turned into very good players."

Skipper will probably be playing his last game at guard. He'll move out to left tackle with the graduation of David Hurd.

"It's the last time at guard for Dan," said Sam Pittman said. "He's 6-foot-10. That long body needs to be at tackle. I think when we open spring in a few months, you'll see Dan there. He could have gone there, but it didn't make sense to make David learn the guard position. It made sense for this year to put them where we played them. But going forward, Dan is a tackle. Denver, we are not sure about, but probably guard."

No one is talking about moving any of the other freshmen who have dotted the starting lineup. D. J. Dean will be a corner, Alex Collins a tailback, Hunter Henry at tight end and Brooks Ellis is a middle linebacker.

Defensively, Dean and Ellis have been in the lineup just a short period of time. But defensive coordinator Chris Ash likes some of the possibilities.

Asked about cornerback play against MSU with Jared Collins and D. J. Dean as the starters, Ash said, "There were some goods and there were some things they need to do better. For DJ Dean, being out there for his first game, I thought he did a decent job. Jared showed improvement, but DJ showed some pretty good promise."

Overall, there were still way too many yards allowed. Ash can see both ends of the current play.

"We've got a long way to go," Ash said. "You can see it on game day. I think there's been a lot of improvement, especially in the last couple of weeks.

"We've cut down on the amount of points that we're giving up. We're being more competitive. I think Brooks Ellis out there has given us a new component. He's not perfect on a lot of things, but he's getting better every single time he's out there. Every rep he takes is a new rep, but he's getting better.

"Putting Dean out there as a young player gave us a little extra juice and I think some of the other guys that are playing, are playing more consistent, which has helped us be more competitive. But we've got a long way to go."

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