The walking wounded began to run at Arkansas' mid-week practice. That was the good news from head football coach Bobby Petrino after Wednesday's workout in Walker Pavilion. The Hogs moved inside for the second straight day of afternoon rain showers on a cool day in the Ozarks.
Temperatures had dropped into the 50s by the end of the workout, but it was toasty inside Walker Pavilion.
Defensive tackle Ernest Mitchell practiced for the second straight day, just two weeks after a "scope" procedure on a troublesome knee. Mitchell went through the individual drills Tuesday and added some of the team sessions on Wednesday. He told coaches he hasn't felt any pain. Coaches are hopeful that Mitchell will play soon -- if not this week, then next week.
"We had a good practice," Petrino said. "I'm happy with them. The defense was physical and very fast. They practiced with focus.
"I thought the offense executed well. Casey had a good day with his execution. The offensive line led the team with a lot of energy."
Petrino said Mitchell has not experienced any swelling since his surgery. That was the key element after he practiced Tuesday.
"There really was no swelling after the surgery in the first few days, so that's a good start," Petrino said. "We were watching to see if he'd have swelling today after what he did yesterday. He didn't. We'll look a the film tonight and see how he did and then see tomorrow if there is any swelling. Today you can say there's not doubt he's going to be back, just a matter of when. Could be this week, but for sure by next week.
"He was full speed today. We didn't ask him to do a lot in the team portion, in group. I'd say Zach Stadther is still likely to start, but we'll see what Ernest can do."
Defensive tackles coach Bobby Allen said what he's seen so far of Mitchell suggests that "if he isn't ready this week, he will be next week. He's come back pretty fast. I asked him how it felt today and he said he's not having any pain and there hasn't been any swelling. He did a lot more today, so tomorrow will be the key. To be honest, Ernest looked pretty good. It was limited reps, but it was good."
Offensive guard DeMarcus Love also has returned to practice, sometimes working with the first unit at strongside guard, splitting time with Grant Cook. Love has missed the last two games with an ankle injury.
"Love has tried to come back and work, but you knew it was still bothering him, because he had forgotten his technique," Petrino said. "He was just trying to fight through the practice. He's tough and you can tell that. But today he was back to playing his technique."
Would he start ahead of Cook?
"I'm not sure on that yet," Petrino said. "Cook has played pretty well. It would be hard to take him out of the lineup right now. But Love is back in there doing well."
Petrino was asked if there were plans to not let Michael Smith's carries to escalate into the 30s again this week.
"We keep saying we are going to get (the freshmen backs) more carries, and we want to," Petrino said. "We may have to just force that. We certainly don't want to get to halftime again and have him at 21 carries. We don't want that. We'd like it to be 12 or 15 at halftime. But then again, maybe that was right. He did still have a 63-yarder in the fourth quarter.
"Some of it is a confidence thing. He knows the pass protection. We are comfortable with him in a lot of situations. But we may just have to force it with the others (backs)."
Petrino took the spot in the post-practice interview schedule normally set for defensive coordinator Willy Robinson. Someone asked him what Robinson would tell the media if he was asked about progress on the defensive side.
"I think he'd tell you that I'm doing a good job of coaching them," Petrino said. "Just kidding."
Defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard said it is a case of the front finally taking the coaching that has been given.
"We are learning it now," Sheppard said. "We ran a lot of stunts the last few weeks and we are getting them down. We are quicker with them. We are running them with the proper technique. We have learned to give the offensive linemen a tip that makes them think we are going one way, and then go another. It's working, too.
"We were swinging a lot of stunts and things just kind of opened up. We've learned how to make our new stunts work. Our pass rush is much better.
"This is a big game this week. Kentucky beat us last year. That's all the motivation you need going into a game. It's a big SEC game. We are pumped because of that."
Allen said the best news was that the Hogs didn't give up long running plays against Auburn.
"It was a big victory and we liked that we eliminated the long runs," he said. "After the game, we were like little kids in the locker room. Winning there in that atmosphere was a big shot of adrenalin for our players.
"We just kept preaching that we had to play four quarters, play as a group, and believe in our technique. Obviously, having some success is a big help. They listen a little better, prepare a little better. You could see that pay off this week in practice."
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