Bret Bielema sees good things as far as the health of the Arkansas football team, including the recovery of outside linebacker Randy Ramsey.
Bielema went over the Razorbacks' injury report at the conclusion of his time on the SEC Teleconference on Wednesday morning. Ramsey, true freshman, has been slowed by an ankle injury, but might be able to help this week against Northern Illinois after a productive practice Tuesday.
"Randy tried to practice last week and we didn't make the decision last week until Wednesday night or Thursday morning," Bielema said. "We thought it would be better to keep him home and get continued treatment."
Another aspect of that decision, coaches knew they were going to play a lot of nickel and the strong linebacker wasn't in the plan much against Texas Tech's spread with plenty of slot receivers. Bielema said Ramsey's Tuesday practice was solid this week.
For the most part, the Hogs came out of the 49-28 game with Tech in good health. Bielema said Wednesday there are three other players along with Ramsey struggling to get back on the field. The one positive there is safety De'Andre Coley.
"Coley lit up a guy on punt protection yesterday," Bielema said, noting that may mean Coley is back this week.
"(Safety) Davyon McKinney practiced yesterday, but God bless him, he's slow to heal with that nagging (heel) injury."
Freshman wide receiver JoJo Robinson has practiced on a limited basis and has missed enough time that a redshirt is still possible.
"It may be in his best interest," Bielema said. "We would like to get him in a game and evaluate, but (that may not happen) because of depth, not disappointment."
Bielema had special praise for several players, the highest for offensive guard Denver Kirkland. The coach said the sophomore from Miami received captain votes from both sides of the ball in preseason.
"Overall, our offensive line has gotten stronger every day and Denver is one of those guys who sets the bar high for everyone else," Bielema said. "He's a guy we can point to for how you do it. He's just a sophomore, but he got several votes (in the captain ballot). Some of our younger guys from South Florida voted for him and some of our guys on defense voted for him, too.
"He's got an incredible mother who pushes him every day. He's got improved physical strength and stamina (over last year). He was created with great feet. He may be 340 pounds, but he's an athlete. He's got tackle feet and mobility but he's playing guard."
Bielema continues to get questions about the image of left tackle Dan Skipper, often accused of playing over the edge. Bielema thinks his 6-10 giant has toned down some of that after a visit with the head coach earlier this season.
"He's done a great job since we talked," Bielema said. "He's done a nice job the last two games. He's improved so much and matured in the last year. He's got a birthday on Saturday and I think he's come a long way as far as mental and physical growth."
Skipper tends to get under the skin of his opponents.
"I think that's a great sign of respect," Bielema said. "It's why I put offensive linemen and defensive linemen on a pedestal. When big people talk, people tend to listen.
"I think the true reward for a player is when you put on the tape Sunday and see how he plays."
Linebacker Martrell Spaight drew praise.
"What I see in practice, I now see in the game," Bielema said of the senior from North Little Rock. "You see him grow as a weakside linebacker. He needs to make all of the plays that are there for the weak linebacker and then now he's making a couple of others that aren't his. He is erasing others' mistakes. About 85 percent of the plays are his, but he's got the ability to make others better, too.
"I enjoy seeing him come to the building on Sunday in khaki slacks and a collared shirt since he's just come from church. He's everything you want in a player."
Bielema was asked if this was a difficult week since the Hogs are coming off a big road victory and then have a trip to play Texas A&M in two weeks.
"It's a great question," he said, "and we look at it through the eyes of an 18-20 year-old that is coming off a long losing streak. It's not coach speak, we try to focus on the 1-0 mentality. We respect all, but fear none. We try to prepare the same way every week, get better on Tuesday and Wednesday. I just impressed on our staff that we had a positive practice on Tuesday, but we have to be sure that if there are things we can't do, take them out."
Bielema: Ramsey close to playing
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