Arkansas will look a little different on defense against Alabama -- in formation and in personnel. That was the gist of what defensive coordinator Reggie Herring said after Wednesday's practice.
Herring said Antwain Robinson had moved to the first team at right defensive end with redshirt freshman Adrian Davis slated to start at end on the left side. Marcus Harrison, who was suspended for the first game, is the backup on the left and is expected to play. Deamario Ambrose, a true freshman, is the backup on the right side.
Overall, Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt called Wednesday's workout excellent and it was the clincher on two weeks of excellent practices in pads. The Hogs had last week off.
"Offensively, we went inside to simulate a hostile environment," Nutt said. "We turned up the music loud as we could. I don't know if it would be like 94,000 or 92,000, but I think our players got the message that it is going to be very loud Saturday.
"We've had two good weeks. Now it's time to get our mental shape going. We'll come back in shorts and shells on (Thursday)."
Among the songs played inside Walker Pavilion were Sweet Home Alabama and the Alabama fight song.
Nutt said he knows what to expect from Alabama, now under new coach Nick Saban.
"I've know Coach Saban," he said. "We've played against him before. His team will be well disciplined. They will be tough. They have some confidence. They are 1-0 in the conference. But I'm more concerned with our guys and how we will play.
"We've worked hard on correcting the mistakes we made in our first game. We've worked hard on the kicking game and special teams. I hope we are better in the kicking game. We've worked on the other mistakes we made in the first game."
Does he see any difference in Alabama this year under Saban?
"I see an air of confidence," he said. "I see a different mindset, a tough mindset. I know it will be a 60-minute ball game."
Tailback Felix Jones said the Hogs are excited to be going to Alabama.
"You get to a point that you need to play a game like this, face the pressure," he said. "That's what you look forward to as a ball player, the pressure-packed game. We know that's what it will be like and that's exciting.
"We've had two good weeks. Our quarterback and receivers have worked on their timing. We are getting better every day. Darren (McFadden) has had good practices. He's better on the handoffs, the option. We look good."
McFadden said the same thing.
"I had a tendency to start running before I got the ball back on the fakes on the option," McFadden said. "The goal is to not have any footballs laying on the field Saturday, zero. I hope that's what we've done, clean that up."
Herring knows what to expect from Alabama's offense, physical play and balance. That doesn't mean so much more passing, but the ability to pass on any down.
"We know what they have, one of the best offenses we'll see all year in our conference," he said. "They have a fine offensive line, one of the best if not the best we'll see. They have very talented wide receivers and that isn't just one or two. They have a fine back with vision and the ability to run with cutbacks. They have a very talented quarterback. Anybody in this league would love to have those offensive players. You'd want that quarterback and those wideouts.
"We know they have balance. They have a very good passing game, but what they are going to do is come out and try to run it. We must stop the run first."
As far as the defensive end rotation, Herring said Wade lost his job on the practice field.
"Antwain Robinson has started to practice hard and that's what he lacked early on," Herring said. "Ambrose outworked Wade, too. Harrison has worked hard, too. He has had to come back and prove some things. He made a mistake and what he's done is come back on the practice field and not say a word and just work. Harrison is working his butt off and not saying a word. He'll play Saturday.
"That's how it works around here. It's what you do on the practice field. You earn your playing time. What we do is based on merit on the practice field."
Herring said Harrison would be in the rotation. He gives the Hogs some size and explosiveness at defensive end, but the defensive coordinator isn't sure he is ready for extending playing time.
"He isn't in game shape," Herring said. "The question on him is what he'll be like in the fourth quarter? Will he be tired. Will he have anything left."
As far as Harrison's position on the depth chart, Herring said, "He's in a humility state. He made a mistake. He isn't going to start for a long time. But, he had been a good kid and hadn't caused any problems. He made a mistake and a bad mistake. He had some stored up in the bank and he spent it all with that mistake. Now he's got to put an awful lot back in the bank (before he starts again). He knows that. He shamed his family and his team. Now he is earning his respect back."
As far as the other defensive ends, Herring said, "You earn your stripes on a day-to-day basis. Right now, that's the way it is. It can change. A first team spot is not a given. If you don't work in practice, you lose it. Pick up your play in practice, things can happen. You earn your pay check on this team.
"Right now, Wade isn't as productive as the others. He's getting outworked. He is getting passed on the basis of work habits. The freshman Ambrose went right past him on the practice field."
Herring said the Hogs will have to find out if their "base defense" can be effective after leaving it on the bench against Troy and the spread offense.
"You can't line up linebackers in space on wideouts and that's what we had to do against Troy, so those guys were on the sideline," Herring said. "We might have played base four or five plays all night and that was just to give the defensive backs some rest.
"This game, we'll find out about our base defense, our linebackers. Is it a worry? Sure, it's a concern because it's like we haven't played a game with our base just yet. It's the first time to face a multiple offense with a very good running game with our base defense. At the end of the day, we'll find out about our defense this week."
Asked what he expects against Alabama, Herring said balance on offense, with a heavy lean to the run game.
"They haven't really tried to throw it much, although they can," he said. "I know they talked a lot this week about getting better in the passing game. But the truth is, they have lined up and tried to run it down your throat. They are a tremendous running team. We'll have to stop the run game first or nothing else will matter."
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