One of the best things about winning enough to get into a bowl game is the opportunity to have 15 extra practices than those who didn’t advance to the postseason.
Arkansas’ used the first trio of the six practices it has participated in to this point before the Jan. 2 Liberty Bowl against Kansas State as developmental ones.
That’s essentially free time with freshmen who redshirted this season, players who were injured or others that didn’t see significant time.
“The great thing about getting in a bowl game is that you do get that extra work with some of these young guys,” Arkansas wide receivers coach Michael Smith said. “It is going to be big for me because next year will be a senior-laden class.
“To get the young guys an opportunity to practice before we get into spring ball can be nothing but a plus for us as an offensive unit and as a wide receiver corp.”
The time has allowed Smith a good look at freshmen wideouts Deon Stewart (5-11, 180) and LaMichael Pettway (6-2, 205).
"They're doing well,” Smith said. “The thing about it is getting our verbiage down. That's one of the things during this period, they've got to get our verbiage down. They're so used to running off of cards … And just doing the little nuances and details of route-running and being in the right place. It's definitely something that both of those guys, and some other young guys we've got, have to improve on.”
It has also allowed Razorback defensive coordinator Robb Smith and the other defensive coaches to get a look at some promising freshmen such as defensive end Jamario Bell (6-5, 253), linebacker Derrick Graham (6-4, 247), secondary players Nate Dalton (6-3, 197) and Willie Sykes (6-0, 180) and defensive tackle T.J. Smith (6-3, 283).
“I really like the direction that we are headed with Jamario Bell and Derrick Graham as pass rushers,” Smith said. “It is an obvious need for us and it has been a positive from that standpoint.
“Another guy who has the ability to dictate daylight is T.J. Smith. I am very, very excited about that well.
"Nate Dalton, a guy we didn’t get a chance to work with a lot during the season, but we have had a chance to work with him a lot these last few days and I think he is going to provide depth for us in the secondary.
“Willie Sykes is another guy that has played for us, but he is just getting some work with him has been a positive as well.
Bell is strictly a defensive end while Graham has lined up at both outside linebacker and defensive end as Arkansas attempts to shore up its lack of a pass rush this season.
“He does a little bit of both,” Smith said. “Basically when we are in our 4-3 stuff, he is still a little bit of an outside linebacker, but when we get into facing 11 personnel, he is more of a defensive end and has been a pass rusher.
Graham gained too much weight coming into fall practice, but has worked with strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert.
“I think Herbs has done a great job helping him transition his body,” Smith said. “He is a lot bigger than he was when he came in. It is starting to balance out for him right now with the proportion of good weight to bad weight.
“I really like where he is and he has done a lot of really explosive things these last few days.”
Arkansas defensive line coach Rory Segrest likes what he sees from defensive lineman Smith, Green and Bell.
“T.J Smith is really coming along,” Segrest said. Derrick Graham is showing quickness off the edge. Jamario has been working. I think that’s the biggest thing we have been able to get accomplished in a few days is getting those young guys some reps and seeing what those young guys can do.”
Arkansas secondary coach Clay Jennings is high on Dalton, who is working at cornerback.
“Nate is playing corner for us right now,” Jennings said. “It is a little bit different when you get out there and you are not following the starters. He is giving tremendous effort. He is not totally a fish out of water right now.
“We are excited about him and I think the next 10-12 days are going to be real good for him.”