Josh Liddell is back in the starting lineup at free safety after three solid weeks of practice, but expect to see Santos Ramirez as well when Arkansas plays host to Auburn.
That's the obvious takeaway after listening to secondary coach Clay Jennings explain the switch in the depth chart that has Liddell reclaiming his spot after three weeks behind Ramirez. It's an interesting competition that doesn't show any signs of letting up.
Jennings said Ramirez has responded the same way that Liddell did earlier this season when the safeties swapped spots on the depth chart. Both are worked hard in the last two weeks after the change was made following the Alabama game. Liddell is a true sophomore. Ramirez is a redshirt freshman. Both are highly regarded players.
"Santos has had a very good week," Jennings said. "Our guys are not selfish. They all work hard and are going to compete."
It could be that Auburn's spread offense requires more safeties in the game because of a physical perimeter running game. Perhaps the Hogs could use strong safety Rohan Gaines, Liddell and Ramirez together.
Ramirez has played some cornerback. Jennings didn't say that. And, Liddell wouldn't confirm that when given the chance after practice Wednesday. Either way, Jennings said Gaines, Liddell and Ramirez have rotated in every game. Liddell got plenty of snaps even when he wasn't starting and Ramirez is in the same situation this week.
"We use different players for different personnel," Liddell said. "We watch for player groups."
That may speak for the way Auburn changes formations and personnel in their spread as they vary the tempo through the game. It's those multiple fronts designed to bring about alignment mistakes by the defense that is probably what put Liddell back on the field this week, according to defensive coordinator Robb Smith.
Jennings said it's also because Liddell has increased the volume in his ability to get checks and keys communicated throughout the defense. Liddell wasn't a loud communicator earlier this season, but has improved.
"I think he's learning and volume sometimes reflects confidence," Jennings said. "He has to make himself heard and if he can't be heard, then he has to communicate with hand signals. Sometimes a safety has to jump into a player's face to make himself heard.
"Everyone is facing the other direction and if they can't hear you, then you have to get their attention in various ways. Maybe he has to tap someone on the shoulder to get the communication and the checks done. He's done better of late. He's getting that done, the communication."
Liddell said the communication is huge this week and must happen quickly because of Auburn's hurry-up style.
"That's what has been what I've noticed in the way Auburn has improved the last few weeks, they are going faster with a new quarterback," Liddell said. "Much faster. They are running much more tempo of late. They are trying to speed up. We see that.
"So our communication has to be quick and correct. We have to recognize the formation changes, know the keys."
Liddell said, "I have been louder. I've also tried to be more vocal. We've played in some loud stadiums and I had to learn to make myself seen and my signals communicated. I think I'm smart and I know how to line up. But I had to make sure that my teammates lined up right. That's part of my job as the free safety. I found out I had to get better and I did. I'm louder now and I know how to get the attention of my teammates. I met with Coach Smith, then with Coach (Bret) Bielema. It was clear from them what I needed to do."
Jennings said Liddell never stopped working.
"It's the nature of this game that you are going to get knocked down at times," Jennings said. "You have to get back on your feet and get going. That's what Josh did."
The Hogs have tried to simplify things in the last few weeks to speed up their recognition.
"We have fewer calls and we are trying to play them better," Liddell said. "That's helped us play faster. If you are thinking, it slows you down. So it's important for us to get our checks done and so we can focus on keys. You can get mentally tired when the pace picks up so it's important to focus on our keys and how we are lined up."
The practice games are the same for the defense as they worked against in other tempo teams like Texas A&M and Texas Tech earlier in the year.
"We have two scout team huddles," Liddell said. "It's running plays back-to-back in practice and being able to handle that mentally. We've done that before."
Jennings said the Tigers are a bit different.
"They probably do so many more things as far as window dressing," he said. "Tech and even Toledo had some tempo to what they did. But not the formations that Auburn has. They are going things to confuse you and how you are going to set the edge.
"The important thing for us is to be physical on the perimeter. That's what you have to do well against Auburn. They are running a lot of the same plays, but they set them different as far as formations and it changes your perimeter game. We know that's going to be a big part of this week's game.
"The pre-snap reads for this game are important. They have to happen quickly. That means getting your eyes in the right place and recognizing formations and the changes that are happening."
The splits by the wide receivers that change angles in blocking lanes are important to read and sometimes that is the key to the alignment changes. Jennings said the focus in practice has been good. There's been two weeks of Auburn work and now it's time to play a game.
"I think our guys are refreshed and excited to get back in a game," he said. "I see it in the way they have practiced. They want to play and they know it's a big week."