Mitchell Ready

The bad news for Arkansas defensive tackle Ernest Mitchell is that he's having some sinus trouble

The good news is that his knee is feeling much better.

"I'd say about 90 (percent)," Mitchell said, when asked about his health. "I'm coming over a little sinus (problem), but that's about it. So I feel about 90 and by Friday I should be 100."

Mitchell spoke to the media for the first time in months after Wednesday's practice. It came two days after Arkansas named Mitchell its starting nose tackle for Saturday's opener.

Mitchell missed the entire spring after undergoing knee surgery last winter. He was still sidelined when preseason practice began, but slowly worked his way back on the field.

The Razorbacks were cautious with Mitchell when he returned, limiting him to one workout during two-a-days. But the senior said he's ready to help lead Arkansas' young defense.

"Everybody has come through," Mitchell said. "We've been through a lot of trials and tribulations, so we've come a long way and we're just trying to improve every day."

Mitchell's presence should help the defensive line, which is considered one of Arkansas' strengths. He started 11 games in 2007 and had 66 tackles. He also tied for the team-high in tackles for losses (10 1/2) and was second in sacks (3 1/2).

Mitchell said he's ready to play again after a tough preseason.

"(It has been) a grind every day," Mitchell said. "Every day you come out working hard, give it your all, just pushing through. You've got to take it one day at a time, keep a smile on your face and just play the game you love."

Cutting Back

It's no secret Arkansas' defense will be counting on youth beginning Saturday.

Two true freshmen — safety Elton Ford and linebacker Jelani Smith — are expected to start Saturday night. Six other true freshmen are listed among Arkansas' defensive depth chart.

With that in mind, defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said the Razorbacks have been cautious about their playbook.

"I think we've actually cut back," Robinson said Wednesday. "But what we did find is we found things we've been doing well and executing. So that's what we'll stick with."

Almost Showtime

After three weeks of spring practice, months of summer conditioning and numerous preseason practices, Arkansas players are counting down the days until the opener.

But tight end D.J. Williams said the Razorbacks are spending the week hoping to ensure they put on a good performance.

"I'm very excited to get to the game," Williams said. "But I think (Petrino) has us all set on getting us right before we actually go out and perform so we don't make mistakes and look sharp out there. That's where we put on our show."

Grayson Surprised

Guard Wade Grayson spent most of the preseason working with the first-team offense, but was still surprised to see himself listed as a starter on the depth chart Monday for Saturday's opener.

"I really wasn't expecting that to happen coming into camp," Grayson said. "I'm just going to keep holding onto that spot."

There's no doubt he'll have competition. Grayson beat out returning starter Mitch Petrus, who received preseason All-Southeastern Conference honors, for the position.

The sophomore started one game as a true freshman last season, but said he'll work to hold onto the job permanently.

"I think I've just got to keep improving my work ethic and just keep going hard and keep learning the plays," he said.

Ticket Update

Arkansas fans still have a chance to get their hands on tickets for Saturday's game thanks to Western Illinois.

The Leathernecks returned roughly 1,600 of their allotted tickets to Arkansas this week. The tickets cost $45 apiece.

In addition, 100 season ticket packets in the East Indoor section remain. The five-game package costs $750.

Quick Hits

• Freshman Jerico Nelson worked with the first-team defense during the portion of practice open to the media. Nelson was with the group instead of Walner Leandre, who was named the starter at Jack linebacker earlier this week.

• Robinson said banged-up linebackers Elston Forte and Ryan Powers aren't expected to play Saturday. Neither is cornerback Jerell Norton, who is coming back from hernia surgery.

• Arkansas' grounds crew began working on the outline of a Hog logo at midfield in Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Wednesday. The logo, which stretched from one 40-yard line to the other, will be one of several new touches on gameday.

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