When head coach Bobby Petrino told the media last week that there might be a lot of true freshmen in the Arkansas depth chart, he wasn't kidding.
There were 18 true freshmen on the depth chart that was released Monday, including four in starting roles. Two of those freshmen also had true freshmen as backups. The Hogs open the season at 6 p.m. against Western Illinois.
Defensively, true freshman Elton Ford was listed as the first teamer at free safety with true freshman Jelani Smith as first at weakside linebacker. Smith's competition at weak linebacker is true freshman Khiry Battle.
On offense, Petrino listed 12 as starters in his spread scheme, noting a starting fullback and four receiver positions. One of those receiver slots is for the tight end.
Mitchell Bailey, a true freshman walkon from Broken Bow, is listed as the starter at fullback. However, that's not an alignment that probably will be an every-day look. Most likely, the Hogs will be more in a one-back look with a tight end, possibly two tight ends and two or three wide receivers.
The first two listed as the Z wide receiver are true freshmen Jarius Wright and Joe Adams. Both Wright and Adams have had solid fall camps.
Not surprisingly, Casey Dick was listed as the starter at quarterback. However, there still wasn't enough separation in the battle behind him to list a clear backup. Petrino said that's the reason for the "or" noting equal status in the No. 2 job between redshirt freshman Nathan Dick and true freshman Tyler Wilson.
"We just haven't seen enough there yet," Petrino said as to why the backup job isn't settled at quarterback. "We are hoping that one of them will stand up and take over. We hope that doesn't take too much longer."
There were five players listed at running back. All of them could play. Michael Smith is the clear number one, followed by Dennis Johnson, Brandon Barnett, De'Anthony Curtis and Chip Gregory.
Curtis has been rehabbing from a knee injury, but has improved rapidly in the last week. He participated in much of the work Friday night when the Hogs held a scrimmage/mock game. Curtis did not take any snaps in scrimmage work, but took snaps leading up to the live hitting.
"He took some reps (Monday) and we'll see how his knee is tonight and in the morning," Petrino said after Monday's practice. "We expect there to be some swelling. But if there's not a lot, we'll see what he can do Tuesday and that would indicate if he could play (against Western Illinois). He's doing better."
The weakside linebacker slot with Smith and Battle fighting there might get some help soon. Elston Forte continues to rehab. The senior captain has missed most of the last two weeks with an injury, but is improving.
"He ran pretty well today," Petrino said. "We'll see what he can do the next few days."
Among other notes in the depth chart were decisions in the kicking game where Jeremy Davis has earned three spots. He'll handle punting, kickoff and will hold for Alex Tejada on placements. Davis took that job in the last two weeks.
"We just found that Alex was just more comfortable with Jeremy holding, things went smoother after we moved him there," Petrino said. "They worked together all summer."
Matt Harris and Reggie Fish were working as the holder in spring drills and early in fall camp.
Ford and Wright will be the kickoff return specialists. Wright will handle punt returns with Adams as his backup.
The interior of the defensive line will have true freshmen as backups. Zach Stadther is the backup to Ernest Mitchell at nose tackle. Lavunce Askew is the backup to Malcolm Sheppard at tackle.
"Stadther had a very good scrimmage Friday night," Petrino said. "We had a lot of freshmen do well in the last week. He was one of them. We've seen enough to trust them."
There were a few shuffles in the secondary after some moves last week. Jamar Love moved back ahead of Ramon Broadway at boundary corner after Broadway took some first-team snaps last week. Matt Harris was listed as first at strong safety after entering the fall atop the list at free safety. Harris moved to strong safety a week ago.
Petrino said the Friday work was among the best he's seen from the defense. He liked what he saw of the live work on that side of the ball.
"The tackling was the best this fall," Petrino said. "We were very happy with the scrimmage and how it went."
In picking Jelani Smith at weakside linebacker, Petrino said the staff was pleased with his striking ability.
"He likes to hit," Petrino said. "He's very physical. He's got speed and natural instincts. He understands blocking schemes and how to slide through to the ball."
The Hogs began class Monday and that led to a later than usual Monday practice. Petrino said it's always one of the toughest days to practice.
"Your first day to work after the start of (classes) is never very good so we decided to go ahead and get it over with today," he said, noting the Hogs won't practice on Mondays during the rest of the season. "We just wanted to get back out there."
The Hogs had taken Saturday and Sunday off to freshen their legs for game week. Some of the players said there wasn't a break in intensity on Monday.
"I don't think it was nerves, but maybe anxiety today because we know it's game week," said center Jonathan Luigs. "I know we can can tell that we are just five days out from playing. That makes you feel the anxiety. You want to get it all right because game week is here."
Asked about the large number of first-year players, Luigs was a little surprised.
"You'd say that's a lot, but they have done well," he said. "They came here ready to play and excited to play. They prepared for it this summer. What I remember when I came in here, I was too scared. I wasn't ready, but they seem to be ready."
Defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard said the same thing.
"We've got some freshmen really playing well," Sheppard said. "You see someone like Elton Ford, he's really playing well. And, we've got freshmen in the line helping out. You see Zach Stadther and he can take on a double team and hold his own. He's a real Hog. We've got some young ones, but they are men."
WT-Ray Dominguez, Michael Aguirre.
WG-Wade Grayson, Mitch Petrus.
C-Jonathan Luigs, Seth Oxner.
SG-Demarcus Love, Grant Cook.
ST-Jose Valdez, Grant Freeman or Matt Hall.
RB-Michael Smith, Dennis Johnson, Brandon Barnett, De'Anthony Curtis, Chip Gregory.
QB-Casey Dick, Nathan Dick or Tyler Wilson, Alex Mortensen.
FB-Mitchell Bailey, John Durmon.
W-Lucas Miller, Carlton Salters, Chris Gragg.
X-London Crawford, Greg Childs, Reggie Fish.
Y-D. J. Williams, Andrew Davie, Ben Cleveland, Lance Thompson.
Z-Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, Crosby Tuck.
E-Antwain Robinson, Jake Bequette.
NG-Ernest Mitchell, Zach Stadther, Cord Gray.
T-Malcolm Sheppard, Lavunce Askew, Van Stumon.
Rush-Adrian Davis, Damario Ambrose, Robert Salinas.
Jack LB-Walner Leandre, Jerico Nelson, Bret Harris.
Mike LB-Jerry Franklin, Jermaine Love, Tenarius Wright, Wendell Davis.
Will LB-Jelani Smith, Khiry Battle.
Bounder CB-Jamar Love, Ramon Broadway, Shedrick Johnson.
Strong safety-Matt Harris, Dallas Washington.
Free safety-Elton Ford, Rashaad Johnson, Hunter Miller.
FC-Isaac Madison, Tramain Thomas, Greg Gatson.
Long snapper-Rhett Richardson, Harrison Whightsil.
Short snapper-Rhett Richardson, Harrison Whightsil.
Holder-Jeremy Davis, Matt Harris.
Kickoff return-Elton Ford, Jarius Wright.
Punt return-Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, Dennis Johnson.
Placekicker-Alex Tejada, Shay Haddock.
Punter-Jeremy Davis, Nick Grasshoff.
Kickoffs-Jeremy Davis, Alex Tejada.
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