Thursday Grid Update, 11/8

How will those on the Arkansas injury report hold up this week? What does depth look like at free safety? Those are two of the big questions this week.

Arkansas coaches said the Hogs were physically better after Thursday's practice, the last work before the trip to Knoxville to play Tennessee in a 11:30 a.m. SEC contest on Saturday.

Jose Valdez, hobbled earlier in the week, practiced in fine fashion on Thursday. Head coach Houston Nutt said Valdez had a very good day.

"Jose had a really good day today," Nutt said. "Everybody will be there at the start."

That last bit was in reference to questions about wideouts Marcus Monk and Robert Johnson. Both have leg injuries, but were available the last two days in practice.

"We had great preparation," Nutt said. "We had a good week."

There were questions after Thursday's workout about depth at free safety where starter Kevin Woods is out with a shoulder problem and one of the backups, Walner Leandre, is out of the country because of the death of his father. Rashaard Johnson, who has played a lot in recent weeks with Woods often injured, will be the starter after playing most of the South Carolina game. After Johnson, Nutt said the Hogs could go to either Dallas Washington or Matt Harris.

"Those two, Washington and Harris, got a lot of reps this week," Nutt said. "They've been there watching on the sideline and have gotten a lot of mental reps and now we are at the point of the season where players have to be ready to step up. Players have to stay in it (mentally when they are third or fourth on the depth chart)."

The Hogs worked inside Reynolds Razorback Stadium the last two days with loud speakers positioned on the sideline blaring the Tennessee fight song, Rocky Top.

"I don't think you can simulate the noise level of their stadium exactly," Nutt said. "It's probably much louder, but we did have it loud. It emphasizes to our players that they must be ready for noise and be able to communicate in that situation. It gives us an awareness of what we are going to face this week."

Nutt remembers the last trip to Neyland Stadium, a six-overtime thriller the Hogs lost.

"I remember it," he said. "Our players played very hard and lost a game we should have won. We missed a 20-yard field goal. I do remember that it was a long, long game."

Assistant coach Bobby Allen, who works with the Arkansas secondary, said the backups have worked hard this week at free safety. He said Washington and Harris have had good weeks.

"We've seen them work hard and they are going to play in certain packages we plan to use this week," he said of Washington and Harris. "Desmond Williams is another that we've gotten reps. Dallas will replace Kevin Woods on certain packages as a starter."

Allen said the Tennessee attack has been traditional with a tight end a lot this season, but they expect multiple sets per the usual.

"They probably haven't use the three and four wide sets as much as last year," he said. "But they are going to get in some sets and try to run the ball. They will use the tight end a lot, more than last year."

Allen said the Hogs did not see quarterback Erik Ainge last year, but they prepared for him. So nothing they've seen from him this year is a suprirse.

"We thought he would play last year, but he didn't," he said. "He's like he was early last year, very good. He's very accurate and he has a terrific arm. You see that he's good at going through the progressions, picking out his receivers and he's quick to do it. He understands this offense.

"He's like Blake Mitchell in some respects, a very good passer. But he probably doesn't rely on the fades -- what South Carolina really likes -- as much as Mitchell. But he has a gun of an arm, one of the strongest we'll see."

Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said the Hogs know they have to be ready for the pass, but he's worked his players on the run, as usual.

"This league is about stopping the run," Rocker said. "It's what Vince Lombardi always said, you better stop the run. If you don't, it's going to be a long day. On Sunday (in the NFL), it's about stopping the run. On Saturday in our league, it's about stopping the run.

"We've had a good week. Our guys have worked very hard. Now, it's about going to the game."

However, he knows Tennessee can also block for the pass. The Vols have given up only three sacks this season.

"What I see on film is a very, very good offensive line," he said. "They also get some help from a very good quarterback who gets rid of the ball very fast. Still, what we have to be is alert against the run first. They are going to try to run it first. We know that. If they can run it, that's going to set up the pass. That's what they are going to do, try to establish the run.

"That's what we do in this league. The SEC is about the run. We've had a good week, now we have to go on the road, fight like crazy against them and their fans. We will be in a big stadium all by ourselves for the most part. You have to fight through adversity on the road. That's our goal this week, fight through adversity. You know you are going to get it. Be ready for it."

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