Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema feels confident starting middle linebacker Brooks Ellis will be back soon, but is hedging his bets on when.
Ellis missed last weekend’s 45-32 loss to Georgia in Little Rock due to a deep knee bruise and a small fracture.
“He ran Monday for the first time that was not weight-bearing in a pool or anything like that,” Bielema said. “He was out running and had no reaction yesterday. He expanded that to running without any any assistance. He had a brace that he used and today we will take him out and do movements and do different things to simulate what he would do on Saturday. He won’t have contact..
“I think the chances of him playing Saturday are very, very good, but the chances of him playing the week after that are excellent,” Bielema added..
Arkansas (3-4, 0-4) steps out of SEC play this week to face UAB (4-3) at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning before a game with current No. 1 Mississippi State the following Saturday.
The Razorbacks were outscored 31-0 in the second quarter last Saturday.
“Obviously we lost a tough one on Saturday and didn’t play very well in the second quarter,” Bielema said. “We did enough positive things to make me feel that this team is taking steps in the right direction, but we have got to get a win. We have to get as many wins as possible in our last five games to get to where we need to be as a program.
“I am very, very excited that certain guys continue to move forward,” Bielema said. “I am challenging guys in practice this week to make sure they hold each other accountable and continue to make the strides we need to make.”
The Blazers come in off a 34-22 loss to Middle Tennessee State, but did play Mississippi State tough earlier in the season.
“UAB is a very good football team that is going to come here on Saturday and expect to have success and obviously we have to play very, very well.”
Bielema said practices have been very physical this week and he tries to get Arkansas back into the mindset it had earlier this season.
“As we move through this thing, I expect to play with a certain expectation physically whether it is an inside drlll, skelly or a punt drill,” Bielema said. “I would say that probably during the inside drill itself that our coaches made some challenges to the players offensive and defensively to make sure they understood what was expected not only on Tuesday, but where we need to get to be on Saturday.”
Bielema did reel of a list of players that he was happy with – tight ends A.J. Derby and Hunter Henry heading up the list on offense.
“I have had a lot of great tight end tandems in the past, but those two guys are pretty impressive with what they are doing not only their stats catching the ball, but in the run game with the physicality that they are playing with and what they do in critical moments is really, really big.
“(Wide receiver) Keon Hatcher continues to be a shooting star for us on the offensive side of the ball at the wide receiver position and (wideout) Drew Morgan came in and played well. (Wide receiver) Jared Cornelius played one of his better games to date.
“On the offensive line, (center) Mitch Smothers has made some progress and done some really, really good things at a level where he continues to improve.
“I think Jonathan Williams at running back and Brandon Allen, obviously had some struggles and threw a couple of interception, but I think the part he did do well when we went to the two-minute he did really, really well.
“He was knocked on the ground several times and kept coming back up and played well for the cards that he was dealt.
“Defensively, Trey Flowers has continued to rise in games to another level and Matrell Spaight are two seniors that are playing as well as I have ever seen them play.
“Martrell, I believe, is number two in the SEC in tackles and he continues to impress me by not only what he does on Saturdays, but the reason he has success is everything he does during the rest of the week.”
Bielema has lifted Toby Baker to first-team punter this week, something that seems to have become a challenge to incumbent Sam Irwin-Hill.
“We had a very spirited conversation on Monday about my expectations for what we need to get out of him,” Bielema said. “…This year he was trying to expand his role a little bit and I allowed that to happen, but I think he lost the focus on what he does well.
“…He hasn’t been punting the ball as well as wanted so I told him and Toby last week that they were going to be in a competition and I didn’t get the results that I wanted so I have put Toby in the number one position and said that Sam had to earn it than during the course of the week.
“He (Irwin-Hill) proceeded to hit the ball I believe five times with 5.0 hang time with over 45 yards so I think the message got across,” Bielema added. “Now he needs to carry that into the game Saturday and hopefully we will be in a happy spot.”
Ellis Might Return To Action On Saturday
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