Since Saturday's open 3 p.m. scrimmage for Arkansas is going to as vanilla as one would expect, one big draw for fans will be getting to see some of the new Razorbacks who have put themselves in position to make a big impact on defense this fall.
Guys like a quartet of true freshmen in safety Josh Liddell, linebacker Randy Ramsey, defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson and cornerbacks Henre' Toliver – as well as sophomore junior college transfer middle linebacker Josh Williams.
“We have just put our head down, gone to work and are doing what we can, anything we can, to help this team and make this team better,” Liddell said.
Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith is anxious to see how the youngsters push forward at the end of the second week of camp.
“It is important for us,” Smith said after the first of the Razorbacks' two Friday practices. “This is kind of dog days of camp this week and it is an opportunity for us to develop mental and physical toughness. Guys are sore coming off the last scrimmage. Your legs start to get a little tired. I have been real pleased with the mental and physical toughness we have had and it has carried out this week in practice. Now it has to show up and be there on Saturday as well.”
It's not surprising that the scrimmage will be vanilla since it is open and so close to the season.
“We are just going to be in our base structure and be who we are,” Smith said. “There is not going to be anything exotic or anything like that. As we get closer to opening kickoff we'll kind of get more pinpointed on that kind of stuff and progress in that area.”
Liddell (6-1, 190, 4.4) has certainly been one of the highlights of camp so far with the former Dollarway star showing flashes that have him seen him get first-team reps due to his talent and Alan Turner and Davyon McKinney both missing practice time.
“The whole thing has been a great situation for him with AT and Sleepy (McKinney),” Smith said. “We are trying to manage those reps so Josh has kind of bumped up a little bit at times. Anytime you can go out there and go against good competition within our scheme and our structure, that is obviously a positive in their development.”
Liddell has been one of the players passing out big hits in practice as well as picking off several passes and has certainly got the attention of head coach Bret Bielema.
“We liked him but he is a kid that played quarterback, played wide receiver, played DB, we didn't know,” Bielema said, “(but now we know) and he is going to be a phenomenal football player.”
Some have labeled Liddell as the defensive equivalent to sophomore Korliss Marshall – an under-recruited in-state kid who could become a breakout star.
“Like Korliss, I am here and I wanted to be here,” Liddell said. “I just want to be the best player that I can be. It feels good that I have all this support and people think I can kind of follow in his footsteps and contribute right away.”
Liddell admits his head was spinning at first at how fast everything goes in a college practice.
“I feel like I have done pretty well, just getting used to the speed of the game of SEC football,” Liddell said. “Everything moves so much faster than high school. Coach Smith and Coach Jennings have done a good job of preparing me and so have Alan Turner and Rohan Gaines. I feel like I am getting better each and every day.”
Smith notes Liddell is one of the many freshmen who do not shy away from contact.
“Josh Liddell at safety has come up and put a few shots in and although he is not really a freshman Josh Williams – our Mike linebacker from junior college – has been a big hitter. Randy Ramsey has flashed at times. I don't want to sell anybody short. Bijhon, in a short area, has a burst and can really bring it. I think we have got a physical group there and not we just have to get them to be consistent in our scheme.”
Secondary coach Clay Jennings sees a natural at the spot in Liddell, who picked off 10 passes as a sophomore for Dollarway and over 20 in his prep career.
“He has a great break on the ball and just seems to know exactly how to get there and be disruptive,” Jennings said. “I'm excited about the opportunity to work with him and help him develop. But you can just see he is going to be special.”
Williams was elevated to second-team MLB behind starter Brooks Ellis this week – a move that caused Otha Peters to decide to transfer. He has since landed at Louisiana-Lafayette.
“I am a Josh Williams fan,” Smith said. “He likes to play the game of football and he has physical presence about him. He has continued to grow and understand what we want from our middle linebacker and that's a positive. He looks good. He is working hard and I know he is working with Herbs to get his body exactly where he wants it to be. I like the way he flies around out there and I like his physical toughness.”
Toliver is another guy that has caught Smith's attention this week.
“A guy that I have been feeling a lot is Henre' Toliver,” Smith said. “He is a guy that we have got to continue to push and see where he can help us.”
Toliver and fellow true freshmen cornerback Cornelius Floyd are getting plenty of reps in practice to see how how much they can help Arkansas this season.
“He (Floyd) is a guy that is learning every day – body position, using his skills in the right way are very important for him, especially when he lines up in the slot,” Smith said. “Like what he is doing there. We have got to continue to keep repping him there and give him an opportunity. We are really still in that evaluation process with a lot of those young guys. They flash a lot of talent, but we have to figure out who can do what and how it is going to help us in our system.”
The emergence of the two youngsters has seemingly sprung vet Will Hines back into action after a slow start to camp.
“Will has certainly flashed, especially in the last couple of days,” Smith said. “His biggest battle is consistency, but we like his attitude and like the way he is headed there. We've just got to keep pushing in the right direction.”
Smith noted that Brandon Lewis has been able to practice some at defensive end this week with he, JaMichael Winston and Tevin Beanum getting the reps of injured first-teamer Deatrich Wise.
“We are shuffling some guys around,” Smith said. “The guy there that we really hang our hat on is Trey. B-Lew has practiced well at times this week. JaMichael Winston has done a nice job. Tevin Beanum. We got some guys and flexibility there. We will be able to just keep pushing through.”
Turner and Ramsey are expected to scrimmage on Saturday after missing time this week.
It was Smith's first time to speak since Wednesday's scuffle between wideout Drew Morgan and cornerback Carroll Washington.
“At the end of the day, we are all in this together and you only get so many times when you are out there on the field go get better so you don't really want to waste your time with shenanigans like that,” Smith said. “We are here to win an SEC championship so let's keep our eye on the prize at this point and keep getting better on every rep.”
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