The Competition Begins

FAYETTEVILLE — The most important thing to Arkansas defensive backs coach Bobby Allen is that he doesn't make any snap decisions.

Sure, his first-team unit put together a forgettable performance in the second quarter of the Razorback's 45-30 loss at Florida last Saturday. But that doesn't mean the long-time coach is going to make swift changes, replacing four starters with a second-team group that played well during the second half.

"When we go through a storm, like those hurricanes down in Florida, when you get a couple bricks knocked down what are you going to do?" Allen said. "Are you going to say everything's lost? Or are you going to rebuild?

"We see it as we're going to rebuild, put another brick on there and go back to work."

That was evident Tuesday when the Razorbacks returned to practice for the first of three workouts during the bye week.

Sophomore Randy Kelly, who transferred from Coffeyville (Kan.) Junior College, was promoted to the first-team defense and worked at free safety in place of junior Vickiel Vaughn. Cornerbacks Darius Vinnett and Michael Coe and strong safety Lerinezo Robinson stayed in their first-team spots.

But it doesn't mean those four will be in Arkansas' starting lineup for its next game at No. 6 Auburn on Oct. 16.

The Hogs have opened competition in the secondary for the next two weeks, searching for defensive backs that deserve to be in the starting lineup after Florida quarterback Chris Leak torched them for a career-high 322 passing yards and three touchdowns. Allen said the battle has been inspired by the steady improvement of Kelly and true freshmen Michael Grant, Matterral Richardson and Dallas Washington, who limited Florida to 85 passing yards in the second half.

"Who we put out there has to earn an opportunity to be out there," Allen said. "Now that we're getting halfway through the season, we know a little more about our freshmen than we did in two-a-days because we've gone through some live situations with them. So it creates more competition and that's healthy."

Allen was confident enough in Kelly and the freshmen to "start getting us ready to be two deep" in the secondary before the Hogs even got on a plane last Friday. He told every defensive back that made the trip to expect playing time because of the humidity and ankle injuries that slowed Robinson, Vaughn and Coe during practices.

The second-team secondary was on the field in the second quarter when Dallas Baker caught a 34-yard touchdown pass. Allen said the Gators faked a screen pass, allowing Baker to slip past Kelly and give Florida a 21-7 lead.

Allen and defensive coordinator Dave Wommack handed the second-team group more work after the Hogs fell behind 35-7 at halftime. Wommack said the unit was on the field for all but two series in the second half and graded out "a lot higher than the ones."

"I think some guys, to me, are too comfortable out there and we're going to shake things up," Wommack said.

Allen said the biggest problems have been with alignment and assignment, two areas that "will get you beat" in the Southeastern Conference. Arkansas' secondary missed a handful of tackles against the Gators, blew assignments and botched coverages in the second quarter.

Allen has challenged everyone to improve the next two weeks.

"I think it's very important that the kids see what they're doing wrong and realize what they're doing wrong," Allen said. "If it's a lack of athletic ability, that might be a major concern. But it wasn't that. We didn't execute what we were supposed to."

The Hogs expected growing pains after losing four starters and several key reserves from last season's secondary. They've taken their lumps, but have two weeks to recover and prepare for the Tigers and quarterback Jason Campbell.

The senior has had an up-and-down career, but is the biggest reason Auburn is 5-0. Campbell leads the SEC in passing efficiency (158.6 rating) and has completed 62 of 99 passes for 865 yards and 8 touchdowns with 2 interceptions.

The coaching staff told Kelly he'll get plenty of reps with the first-team defense this week, emphasizing to the Palmetto, Fla., native he needs to work hard in practice. But the sophomore knows he hasn't been handed the starting job over Vaughn yet and said "there's no telling what might happen in the next two weeks."

That's something Vaughn could agree with.

"Competition is always healthy for anybody," Vaughn said. "It's just a steppingstone, something that pushes everybody to play to their potential. Whenever you don't have your best game and the other guy steps up, it takes the burden off of you to know you've got somebody that has your back.

"It's always a positive, always a plus."

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