Wednesday Grid Update, 9/17

Arkansas is getting some of their injured defensive players back this week -- just in time for the SEC opener against Alabama.

Arkansas put in a little two hours on the practice field. It was a good day, according to defensive coordinator Willy Robinson.

"They are really working hard," Robinson said. "That is one thing that I can really give them credit for. They are working hard, the last two days we saw improvement in some areas and we have to be able to stop the run to compete with this football team."

Robinson liked the idea of having a few extra practices for the SEC opener against Alabama, courtesy of an unexpected open date last weekend after the postponenment of the trip to Texas because of Hurricane Ike.

"It's been wonderful," Robinson said. "In a 24-hour period last week we managed to switch over from Texas to Alabama. That was a little hard to change that mindset but it gave us a little extra time to prepare and I was sitting here this afternoon thinking about why I have about an hour of extra time to do my notes or write letters or whatever it is I needed to do. We got some extra time to prepare so hopefully that is an advantage on our part."

Robinson expects a tough challenge from Alabama. He sees a potent running game.

"They are big and physical up front," Robinson said. "Their running backs are pretty special."

The running game is backed by a superb passing game led by quarterback John Parker Wilson. It was Wilson who sparked the Tide in the fourth quarter last year in Tuscaloosa in a victory over the Hogs.

"I think that if he gets a hot hand and we let him keep that hot hand he'll kill us," Robinson said. "We have to disrupt him. If we can, then he is a little bit different quarterback. If he has time and we aren't doing anything to keep him uncomfortable, then he can pick you apart."

Robinson is pleased so many defensive players unavailable for extended duty the first two games are starting to come back. Among those expected to play bigger roles out earlier this season are cornerback Jerell Norton and linebackers Ryan Powers, Elston Forte, Freddy Burton and Wendell Davis.

"All of those have at least played some in big games, against SEC teams, so that helps to get them back," Robinson said. "They have expanded, bigger roles this week and are in some packages and in the rotation. So we are excited about that. We've had a little time the last two weeks to get them some repetitions and that's good, too."

This will be an interesting weekend for Arkansas cornerbacks coach Lorenzo Ward, an Alabama graduate and a former graduate assistant coach for the Tide.

"It's just another game," Ward said when first asked about playing against 'Bama.

However, later he admitted that it's an "extra special day." He said it's the second time he's gone against his alma mater in his coaching career.

"I did it in '95, too, when I was at UT-Chattanooga," Ward said. "I'll say this is the first time I've gone against Alabama when the team I was with had the opportunity to win. I don't want to remember the other time. I've forgotten the score."

Arkansas cornerback Jerell Norton said Ward mentioned that he was an Alabama alum for the first time earlier this week.

"To be honest, we didn't know until he said something in a meeting this week," Norton said. "He told us it would be a great honor to him if we played our best football this week since that is his old school.

"So I want to get a turnover for him this week. We haven't had one and I'd like to get one for Coach Ward. It would be good if his guys (the corners) got some turnovers for him this week. That's our goal. It's time."

Apparently, it's Norton's time to step into a bigger role after fighting through two major injuries that knocked him out of most of spring drills and all of fall camp. He went through a badly torn hamstring, then a hernia.

Norton said he's not sure what role he'll play this week, but noted he's worked in several different packages and has been drilled in the nickel back, boundary corner and field corner spots in several.

"To be honest, I don't know how I fit into the game plan," he said. "I'm just trying to learn a lot of new things. I missed all but 2 1/2 days of the spring and then the fall. I've had to have a lot of one-on-one meetings after practice with my coaches to learn this system. It's completely different.

"Just playing defense is a lot different for me. I didn't play a snap on defense in high school. It was quarterback for me. And, then my first two years here it was all just press coverages. I've never played in this system.

"I think in the last system, with Coach (Reggie) Herring, there were about six or seven calls period on defense. This system, with Coach Robinson, there must be 50 to 60 different calls. It's a whole lot to learn. I'm not sure I have it all down just yet, but I'm getting there."

Robinson laughed when told there were that many calls.

"I think it may seem like a lot to him, but we don't have that many in," Robinson said. "We have only about six or seven in. We do have to worry that it overwhelms him. He's gotten a lot of reps in practice the last two weeks and we are trying to be careful not to bring him along too fast. We have to have some others behind him ready if it gets to be too much or he can't hold up for a lot of snaps (because of conditioning). So I understand what he is saying. But it's not 50 or 60 calls.

"He's done real well so far. He's coming along nicely. He has nice ability."

Norton was involved in several big plays in the second half of the Albama game last year, including man-to-man situations where Alabama's D. J. Hall beat him for big gainers.

"I remember that game real well," Norton said. "I guess one of the good things is that D. J. Hall isn't there anymore. But I haven't forgotten what happened in that game.

"Me personally, the mindset I keep is that you forgive, but you don't forget. So I don't forget about the ending of that game and my role in it.

"What I want to do for this game is to, one, relax, and two, do what I'm coached to do. That's how you focus on the task at hand."

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