Thursday Grid Update, 8/21

Arkansas middle linebacker Brooks Ellis returns to practice on a full-time basis Thursday as Razorback defensive coordinator Robb Smith continues to prepare his side of the ball for a challenge from Auburn.

A former Arkansas quarterback-turned -wide receiver is portraying a former Georgia cornerback-turned- Auburn quarterback this week at Razorback football practice.

Damon Mitchell – who is expected to see action at wideout against the Tigers on August 30 – is getting quarterback snaps this week against the first defense to simulate Nick Marshall.

Marshall is the former Georgia cornerback who kicked off the team by the Bulldogs, moved to Auburn and quarterbacked the Tigers to last season's national title game.

“I think we have Duwop (Mitchell) playing him and he is doing a great job and some other walk on guy (Troy Allison),” Arkansas linebacker Brooks Ellis said Thursday after practice. “They are both doing great. He is really fast, he is a good leader as a quarterback – a former quarterback – and he makes quick moves. He is very quick and that is what Nick Marshall is. He gives us a good look.”

-- Defensive end Jamichael Winston agreed with that sentiment, in terms of Marshall, who will not starter the game due to a legal issue he had this summer.

“Duwop gives a great look,” Winston said. “ He doesn’t take it easy. He’s a very fast guy himself. He can kind of simulate Nick Marshall pretty good.”

Ellis is also quick to note that the Razorback defense will trot out some things that neither Auburn, Arkansas fans or the media have seen.

“There is a lot of stuff we try to hide from fans and from Auburn that might be watching,” Ellis said. “I think we have got a stuff that people will be surprised about and it will be fun to watch come Saturday.

“...We'll be ready,” Ellis added. “We have been getting after it during practice and getting a little extra afterwards. We'll definitely be ready.”

Arkansas has spent a lot of time both on and off the field preparing for Auburn's offense according to Razorback defensive coordinator Robb Smith, who has never faced a team with Tigers' head coach Gus Malzahn involved in the game.

“In order for us to do things we need to do we have got to be very disciplined in our approach,” Smith said. “We have got to make sure we are taking away the dive, the quarterback, any throw off of that. So we spend a lot of time in the film room a lot of time just making sure we understand our system and how we need to operate.”

Auburn not only had a great rushing attack last season, but played off of that for big passing plays when they did go up top.

“They have great athletes on the perimeter and they stretch you vertical and as you try and gear in and stop the run, stop the run, all of a sudden they take a shot at you deep down the field,” Smith said.

“You have got to maintain discipline across the board whether its' the defensive line, linebacker or the secondary.  We have to play great assignment football and really be prepared to be challenged every play.”

Ellis, who went through the whole workout Thursday after being limited with a knee injury, noted that means making sure your guy goes to the ground regardless of whether he has the football.

“You have just got to make sure you know where you are going and just fit up on your guys that you are supposed to tackle every single time,” Ellis said. “It doesn't matter it he has the ball, you are still supposed to tackle him. That's a good way to make sure nothing gets out is a big play.”

Arkansas is not just preparing for Marshall or back-up Jeremy Johnson per Smith.

“He is an excellent football player. Nobody knows how that (not startting) turns out so we are preparing for Auburn just in general. But I am sure we will see him at some point in time and we have got to be ready.”

It certainly will be easier if Ellis 100 percent as he asserts he will be.

“I'm feeling good and getting better every day,” Ellis said. “Slowly getting into it, but today was a lot more than it had been, but I am feeling good.”

This was an injury he suffered in high school in Fayetteville as well.

“Yes, I just reaggravated it a little bit,” Ellis said. “It is not nearly as bad as high school. Not nearly the amount of recovery time in high school. Getting better and feeling good right now. It is just a little slow after practice right now and that's about it. I am feeling good.”

Ellis, who was elevated to a starting role late in his true freshman season, believes he is a much better football player this season.

“I feel so much more prepared,” Ellis said. “I feel so much more mature. I am just so much more ready for it and I can't wait for that Saturday. I think just having the experience and knowing what I did wrong and what I need to do better this time and just learning from that and building on it. That's what I've done – just building on each and every experience that I have had and just getting better every day.”

There is also some comfort in having vets Martrell Spaight and Braylon Mitchell returning as well.

“It feels good,” Ellis said. “Everybody is getting better. Having Spaight and Braylon back is good to have. Finally some experience. When you are next to them on the field, it is very comforting. They have been through it and they know what is about to happen.”

Smith noted that senior Tiquention Coleman – a former safety – could see a lot of action at Auburn in his new hybrid role.

“When we talked back in the spring this is a game that T.Q. could have a role for us, a safety/linebacker type hybrid in space can certainly help us with things,” Smith said.

Arkansas has four young linebackers – three true freshmen – that have not taken a college snap.

“They are all doing a great job,” Ellis said. “It has been a competition all camp. Just a fight for positions and everybody is doing a great job of learning the defense and just stepping up each and every day and getting better. I think it has improved the linebacking corp as a whole and that will make us better for sure. We have grown a whole lot since last year.”

Sophomore middle linebacker Josh Williams – set to back up Ellis – has a year of junior college football under his belt.

“Lot of physicality,” Ellis said. “He is a very physical guy. He can really use it. He is a good player.”

All in all, Ellis just sees a better and faster group.

“I think we are faster because we know it more and we can react better, we can play the ball better and we are just a lot faster,” Ellis said.

Smith noted that he is not afraid to play true freshmen safety Josh Liddell or any other freshmen if that is what is best for the team.

“That's  why you prepare, that's why you practice,” Smith said. “You earn the right to play with confidence by preparing well and I think some of our young guys have done that and I have no hesitation to put a guy that has prepared well and had a good camp in the opening football game.”

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