Arkansas wrapped up serious bowl preparations with a another in a long line of serious practices. The Hogs worked about 75 minutes in Independence Stadium on Monday with a surprise in special teams.
Matt Jones worked as the backup punt returner, a job he often held in high school. Houston Nutt would not say if Jones would replace Marvin Jackson, but noted that Jones has begged all season for a shot at that post.
"He might (return punts)," Nutt said. "Marvin has been a little hobbled in our workouts with a banged up knee."
Jones had a sly smile on his face when he talked of the possibility.
"I'd like that," Jones said. "That would be nice. That's up to Coach Nutt and we've talked about it. I've asked about it and we've talked a lot about it. Marvin Jackson is really good at it. That's his deal, but I'm ready if the team needs me to do that. It would be nice to do it. I've worked on it and I'm ready."
Missouri's punt returner is Marcus James, the school record holder. He's a huge threat and has several punt returns for touchdowns in his career.
The real key might not be whether or not Jones returns punts, but whether or not the Hogs can force some Missouri punts. Quarterback Brad Smith is a superior athlete and will be hard for the Hogs to contain. He's rushed for over 1,000 yards and passed for over 2,000 yards over the last two years.
"If you look at those numbers you know he is a great, great athlete," Jones said. "Can I match him with big plays? That better not be what I'm thinking about or we are in trouble. I have to concentrate on the little things and then big things might happen. But if you go out there trying to make a big play, you might get something just the opposite."
Defensive secondary coach Bobby Allen said his group will face a tough test because it won't ever know if it's a pass or a Smith scramble.
"The first task is to secure their man, lock him up," Allen said. "Then you have to find the ball. That is tough to do with Smith. He might be throwing, or he might be running. The receives will try to run you out of the play. Our guys have to realize when they aren't really running a route, but taking them out of the play and that's when you have to make a tough decision to try to go contain the quarterback. He's a wonderful athlete and has great, great speed. We see that in our quarterbacks, but not in game situtations and with game speed."
The Hogs seemed up beat and focused in their last workout before Wednesday night's Independence Bowl. They all were talking about the serious nature of their preparations.
"We have a mature bunch," Jones said. "Our seniors told us how much this game means to them. Our players have taken their cue from them. We have been doing things the right way down here."
Nutt said it's clear the players have been to bed early and stayed away from the night life in Bossier City and downtown Shreveport. They are staying some 10 miles west of those areas in a hotel away from the bright lights of the city.
"From what I can tell, our players haven't been out at night," Nutt said. "You want them to have a good time at the bowl and for it to be a reward for the hard work of the season. But in the same vein, you want them to be serious about their preparations. It sure seems better here this year. But, I've been fooled before about intensity and focus. We'll see. From what I've seen, it looks good so far."
Matt Jones waits for a punt in practice Monday at Independence Stadium.
Shreveport native Richard Smith locks onto a pass in practice Monday.
Cedric Cobbs takes off in Independence Stadium.
Carlos Ousley warms up before the Hogs' practice.
Photos by Tom Ewart
Arkansas Bowl Update, 12/29
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