It's not game week yet, but it's clear that Auburn is on the mind of the Arkansas coaches and players after Tuesday's media session with the defense.
"We have been working on the Auburn concepts for a few days," said Robb Smith, the first-year defensive coordinator for the Razorbacks. "They are not like our offense so it's good to get started on those concepts and some of them figure into what other teams on our schedule do so it's beneficial for later, too."
After missing Saturday's scrimmage with a sore knee cap, first team middle linebacker Brooks Ellis participated in most of Tuesday's workout. Smith said backup Josh Williams handled the work with the first team in fine fashion, standing out in both the run fits and the pass coverage in the 4-3 scheme.
The Hogs had a veteran defensive coach visit the practice, someone close to Smith. Greg Schiano, the speaker for Wednesday's first meeting of the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club, was at the Tuesday workout. Smith said he'll give him "another set of eyes and will be like a quality control assistant for our defense."
Smith served as linebackers coach for Schiano's Tampa Bay Bucs last year. Schiano is working with the NLF Network this season after being let go with the Bucs. Smith and Schiano previously coached together at Rutgers, too.
"He'll be around us for the next couple of days," Smith said. "It's like a member of the family arriving. My wife and sons were up to practice this afternoon and he went right to them for hugs. We're that close.
"I owe a lot to Coach Schiano. He gave me my chance to move from Division IAA to Division I and then brought me to the NFL."
Does Smith think Schiano will recognize the Arkansas defense?
"No doubt," Smith said. "I feel sure he will. What we are doing, a lot of it, I learned from him. I learned the details from him. I'd hope he'll recognize it."
Smith said he's "having fun" in camp and that the installation and fine tuning has gone well.
"I think we've really progressed," he said. "I like where we are. I REALLY like this football team."
That came after someone mentioned that linebacker Martrell Spaight has worked on his flexibility over the last six months with a yoga DVD.
“I had heard that. I think that’s phenomenal," Smith said. "Listen, this guy, you’ve got to love Martrell. He’s going to do everything he can to get better. … I don’t know how things are going to go, but I like this football team. The results, they’ll take care of themselves. But I think our guys on defense. They’re good kids. They’re working their butts off. I like this football team. So we’ve got to get them where they need to be.”
It sounds like Smith is an encouraging type coach?
"Well, I can be, but when I see someone needs their butt jumped, I'll do that," he said. "The way it works, you encourage them a little, then you jump them, then you encourage them, then you jump them. And, then you figure out what works with each guy. I think we are doing that with this team. Some guys you can't encourage. In coaching, the key is to learn what works with each one."
Smith has been pleased with the development of starting nose tackle Taiwan Johnson, a 235-pound defensive end when he arrived from Manvel, Texas. But now, a cat-quick 260-pounder.
"I give credit to Bret Bielema for Taiwan," Smith said. "You want to get the best four defensive linemen on the field and really the best 11 across the board. Moving Taiwan from the three technique did that for us.
"There would be a lot of head coaches afraid that Taiwan might be a little undersized, A lot of guys wouldn't have made that move. And it's really helped our front.
"We still like what Bijohn Jackson is doing behind Taiwan. He's coming and he gives us some power. He's learning the details and working hard and we'll need him on the field, too."
Johnson was part of a defensive line class that included Darius Philon, Deatrich Wise, Brandon Lewis and JaMichael Winston. All are part of the defensive line rotation.
"I'll be the last of that group to get on the field," Johnson said. "I had to go to the scout team, work and learn. That's fine. Everyone does it a different way. I just had to keep learning and working. I think we all bring something to the table. We are all a little bit undersized, but we have athletic ability, quickness and we'll play hard.
"I'm undersized. Yes, I know that sometimes the guy across from me outweighs me 100 pounds (like Sebastian Tretola). But I don't dwell on the negatives. It brings on doubt. I just look at the positive. We are going to present some problems for the offensive lines.
"I feel really good about our defensive line. We are an athletic bunch and we are going to attack the line and try to play in the backfield. We will dictate the daylight and make it a smaller gap for our linebackers."
With the Auburn game approaching, is the detail on that offense becoming a bigger focus.
"I've been watching Auburn tape for a long time," Johnson said. "I've been studying their strengths and weaknesses for quite some time. We want to be ready.
"I know it's a challenge. We like a challenge. Our whole team has something to prove. It's a challenge, but we accept the challenge."
Smith said he's close to finalizing the rotations for the Auburn game.
"We'll finish that this weekend," he said. "We've got a lot of guys that we think can play based on personnel and matchups (from Auburn). And we have a lot of the freshmen that we think are going to make the travel squad and help (in special teams), like the three freshmen linebackers, all of those guys.
"We like our linebackers. We've added speed. We like what we have in Brooks, behind him with Josh Williams, and then you really like Martrell and Braylon (Mitchell). Braylon is a real energy guy who does a lot for our front. Brooks Ellis is very detailed. He gets us in the right looks. He understands every aspect of our scheme. Then, you've got a guy like Daunte Carr who has really come on in camp."
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