Bledsoe A Cause For Cautious Optimism

FAYETTEVILLE -- With beads of sweat pouring down his face as quickly as he could towel them off after some post-scrimmage running on Saturday, Arkansas defensive tackle Fred Bledsoe smiled and took stock of his football career.

"I'm a senior and it's now or never," Bledsoe said.

The 6-foot-3, 312-pound man mountain from Little Rock Central has never lived up to his high school hype, but on Saturday he served notice that could change by getting two quarterback sacks and a couple of hurries.

"I have suffered some bad situations in my life the last couple of years," Bledsoe said. "I didn't pass a drug test, the coaches thought I was lazy, and last year me and (UA defensive line coach Tracy Rocker) didn't see eye to eye. But now I've become a good listener, and I'm taking heed to everything he's saying."

While defensive coordinator Reggie Herring acknowledged that Bledsoe's resurgence comes at a good time, he mostly reserved judgment.

"He's got to go more than three plays without dying out there," Herring said. "Right now he's a good two-play player, but after that he tends to shut it down."

Bledsoe knows that's his reputation, but he said, "I'm just here to help my team out by giving my talent. Everyone tells me I have the size and ability to be the best out here. Right now I'm trying to put that in my head and my heart."

Hogs coach Houston Nutt, another Little Rock Central grad, is pulling for Bledsoe.

"Fred has had back-to-back good practices," Nutt said. "It's a must that he helps this team. He's let me down before. But we're cautiously optimistic."

Bledsoe has been alternating with Cord Gray of Wynne, five plays in and five plays out.

"I know I've got a chance to get to the NFL," Bledsoe said. "I've seen what Jamaal Anderson has done. But right now, helping Arkansas win an SEC championship or maybe a national championship is all I'm worrying about."

Herring, his voice hoarse from a week's yelling, said, "We'll let them know when they're superstars. Right now (sophomore end) Malcolm Sheppard is the tempo-setter for our defense. He's earned the name 'Wood," because he comes out swinging every snap, like a fifth-year senior. He doesn't say a word, except 'Yes, sir.' He's a coach's dream."

LOUD LICK

The hit of the day inside Walker Pavilion was linebacker Wendel Davis' crunching tackle of tailback Hezekiah Smith.

Nutt noted, however, "Hezekiah is so valuable, especially on special teams."...

Hogs offensive coordinator David Lee liked a couple of red-zone plays that produced touchdowns -- a nifty inside run by Michael Smith and a fade-route reception by Marcus Monk -- but otherwise he summarized, "The defense had a good day."...

Defensive end Antwain Robinson spent some time on the first team Saturday after getting demoted and becoming a backup following his arrest on shoplifting charges on March 18.

FACES IN THE CROWD

Leroy Pearce, who was an assistant coach for Arkansas' 25 Little Pigs when they won the 1954 Southwest Conference title, recalled Saturday, "Billy Ray Smith was our biggest player, and he weighed 214."

Bill Sutton, who played on the 1961 UA team after a three-year stint in the Marines, recalled trying to tackle speedy Lance Alworth in practice one day and coming up with a handful of air instead.

Larry Beightol, a former Hogs assistant under Lou Holtz, has had two knee replacement procedures but attends practice often. "I come, take a look for awhile and leave," Beightol said.

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