Dan Skipper's change in jersey number – from 76 to 63 -- seemed to be the major fascination with the media when Bret Bielema held his Monday briefing. Myself, I'm more interested if the Arkansas football team used the open date to make a change at placekicker or find a pass rush.
It's my belief that if the Hogs can find a pass rush, a lot of worries will go away, including any issues with Skipper, the big sophomore left tackle. If the Hogs solved that issue at defensive end during the open date, it might be big for the defense this week against Alabama.
Bielema suggested Skipper try a different number for a “rebirth” after two penalties cost the Hogs in their loss to Texas A&M.
I listened casually to the way Bielema pushed the mental buttons to get all of Skipper's intensity going in a positive direction. I was waiting for a chance to get to what I think are the key issues to beating Alabama this week. Can the Hogs make a field goal and get to the quarterback?
Bielema cleared up a few things on the placekicker battle, but he also was vague on the leader of that competition. The one thing that was obvious: true freshman Cole Hedlund isn't in the mix. Bielema said Hedlund, the nation's top high school kicker last year, is going to redshirt.
This week's depth chart has an “or” between senior John Henson and sophomore Adam McFain. Freshman Lane Saling is also in the mix, but not listed on the two-deep.
“We've got great competition,” Bielema said. “We worked them Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week. We kicked eight last night and we'll work them again Tuesday and Thursday.
“Josh did fairly well. Adam and Lane have done good things, too. McFain has impressed me. I thought about (playing him) last week.
“Cole has done well, but we are going to redshirt him. (In August) he didn't have the leg strength or consistency. He's involved in a developmental (strength) program right now.”
When Bielema was asked to be more specific about the status of the competition, he said, “I left it unclear for a reason.” In other words, he wants to chart the kickers again this week.
It could be that Henson -- with two short makes under 30 and two misses over 40 – handles the short placements. McFain, now the kickoff man, could get the job on longer tries.
I'm probably more concerned with what the rotation is going to be at the defensive end spot opposite Trey Flowers. The senior from Huntsville, Ala., has been as advertised with 26 tackles, third on the team behind Martrell Spaight (43) and Brooks Ellis (31).
It's what's going on at the other end where JaMichael Winston, Deatrich Wise, Brandon Lewis, Mitchell Loewen and Anthony Brown have all seen time. Tevin Beanum has played behind Flowers.
The depth chart lists Wise and Winston with an or at that spot. Winston has 11 tackles, Wise six.
Wise was expected to take that position after a dominant performance in the spring. He was unblockable in the early days of fall camp before a knee sprain put him on the shelf. Lewis had knee issues in the spring and has not been a factor, either.
“He was really good to start August before the injury,” Bielema said. “He just hasn't been able to practice much since then. But last week, he looked like the old Deatrich. If he can play like that, we can move JaMichael inside and that really will help our pass rush.”
Wise has the frame. At 6-6, 272, the Carrolton, Texas product was too much for the Arkansas offense to handle in two-a-days. Tight ends coach Barry Lunney said, “We know we are playing against an SEC quality defensive end so it's good work every day go go against Trey and Deatrich. And Deatrich really has given us fits.”
That's not been the case since the injury. The entire defensive end group has totaled just one sack and that belongs to Flowers. The production has been weak from the rest of the group.
Defensive coordinator Robb Smith liked what he saw from Wise last week. On Thursday night, Smith said, “He looked good. We tried to be smart with what we did with him as far as high reps (last week) because he's just getting back to full speed. But he can make a difference for our front. I think he's going to help us.”
They may not get much help from Lewis.
“Unfortunately, B-Lew just hasn't been able to go because of his injury,” Bielema said. “He's just had a lot of issues with that leg. On the flip side, I believe Deatrich is finally back. He practiced all of last week. I think he's going to step it up.”
The Hogs need for that in a big way. It's too easy to set the protections with help to block Flowers if there is no pressure from the other side.
Well, they need to make a field goal, too. If they can get pressure from the defensive ends and make a field goal, maybe the victories will return.
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