“We are opening up the season with an SEC opponent, the Arkansas Razorbacks. Offensively they have seven returning starters, led by their returning starting quarterback Brandon Allen. He is a very quality quarterback who got a little banged up a little last year, but we know he can really throw it.
"The running backs are very deep. Collins, Williams, and Marshall, they are all three outstanding running backs. They run hard and they are all capable of making big plays. Their tight end Hunter Henry is one of the best in the country and one of the best in the league. He had a very good freshman year last year and we know that he is an impact player.
“Defensively, they have six returning starters led by defensive end Trey Flowers. An outstanding player and impact player, he can really change the game. The safety Alan Turner is very aggressive and a very good player. In the kicking game last year they were very aggressive, and we expect them to do the same thing in this first game.
“Overall we expect them to be much improved. They have an excellent coaching staff. We know that they are going to present a lot of challenges.
“As for us, Jeremy Johnson will start and then Nick Marshall will play. I’m not ready to say exactly when, but he definitely will play. Also Joshua Holsey will start in the place of Jonathon Mincy, and Mincy will play also. Robinson Therezie, I don’t have any updated information on.
"Overall, our guys are just excited that the season is here. It has been a long off-season with the way it ended with the last game. Our guys are looking forward to playing at home. Our coaching staff feels the same. We are playing a very good opponent and we will need to play well.”
What will decide when Nick Marshall enters the game? “We have a plan, and they know the plan.”
Who is your third running back? “We have Roc Thomas. He has a chance to be in the game and he also has a chance to play at kick returner. Peyton Barber obviously has a chance as well so we really don’t have who is number three and number four. We have specific things we feel like both those guys can do well.”
When did Jeremy Johnson find out he was starting? “Jeremy has known that for a while.”
On Johnson’s progress? “He is a lot like Nick. He went through the season learning the offense. We had a chance in the spring and gave him a lot of reps. He was already pretty familiar with the style of offense because he did something very similar in high school. We have a lot of confidence in him. He is very talented. In the two games he played last year he was the Freshman SEC offensive player of the week.
"We have a lot of confidence in him. He knows the whole playbook. There is not one thing that I would say we are concerned about. There is nothing like experience and the fact that he got some good experience last year really helps. We have had a plan for him to be a bigger factor this year than he was last year. He has earned it. He does a lot of things that can help us win.”
What has freshman Nick Ruffin done to make the two-deep? “Nick’s really stood out and done an outstanding job on the defensive side. We’ve had scrimmages with the young guys’ emphasis and he’s stood out. He’s done a good job.”
On Jeffrey Whitaker’s comeback? “Jeff is one of our leaders. Last year in fall camp he banged his knee up so I went ahead and redshirted him. He’s got a lot of experience. He’s healthy now and I think that’s a big factor. He’s got experience in this league.”
On Shon Coleman’s opportunity facing Trey Flowers? “Trey is one of the better defensive ends in our league. They’ve got other defensive ends who are pretty talented too. Shon is in a good spot. He’s very confident. He’s playing very good football now and it will be good to see those matchups work out.”
H-back and tight end are listed together on the depth chart? “There’s a possibility to play them both (C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse). Both are definitely starters in our mind. There are times you’ll see both of them on the field at the same time. The thing about it is both of those guys give us a lot of flexibility. Both of them last year played outside receiver, inside receiver, X to the boundary. It gives us a lot of versatility with those two guys, especially to move around.”
How will the time be split at QB? “We have a plan and we are going to stick with it. I’m not going to sit here and tell everybody what our plan is, but we do have a plan and we feel very good about it.”
Your offseason goal was more balance on offense, yet Arkansas is a team that likes to control the clock? “The first game you want to take what they give you. If they give you the run, you want to run it. If they dare you to throw, you want to be able to throw it. Last year, with the time of possession, there weren’t a lot of plays run. They did a very good job of controlling the tempo and controlling the clock and that’s definitely a factor. Obviously, we’d like the tempo to be in our favor.”
On Jaylon Denson who is recovering from a knee injury suffered last year? He’ll be good to go.”
On Johnson’s response to starting?“Me and Rhett communicated with our quarterbacks. We’ve had a plan for a while.”
Facing new Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith? “I think there’s going to be some similarities. Obviously, he’s very good. First of all, he’s a very good defensive coordinator. He’s very sound. You just do the best you can on predicting how they’re going to play you. The first game, whether it’s this game or some other year, there is an adjustment time. There are usually wrinkles that you must adjust to. First games are about adjustments. You know, we’re going to do what we do. We’re going to hopefully get a feel for them earlier in the game, rather than later and we are going to take what they give us.”
Facing Brandon Allen? “He’s healthy now. I’ve seen him all the way back to high school. He can throw it. He’s very accurate. Even with his arm last year, he threw a couple of deep balls very good. He’s a competitor and he’s a returning starter. There’s not very many returning starters back in our league and we know that he’ll be ready.”
Expectations for D’haquille Williams? “I’m expecting him to execute their offense. Up to this point, he’s done a very good job but there’s nothing like game experience. We’ll see how he responds in the game but like I said, he’s very talented and we’ll just be able to execute our offense and go from there.”
On having freshmen and newcomers on the two-deep? “If they’re on the two-deep, there’s a really good chance that they’re going to play. We think we’ve got some talented guys. In fall camp they earned the right to be up there so we feel very comfortable.”
On Robenson Therezie not being on the depth chart? “We just didn’t feel like we need to put him on there right now until it (his eligibility issue) gets resolved.”
On Anthony Swain’s improvement since missing spring practice? “He’s responded well and he’s earned his way back. He’s got experience and he has got some big game experience. Coach (Ellis) Johnson has a comfort level with him.”
On playing big games "Any time you play a big game, obviously you want to play well first of all. That’s the way it helps recruiting. The fact that we’re playing an SEC game the very first game on the SEC Network I think is huge, and I think a lot of recruits will be watching.”
Preparing for trick plays from Arkansas? “I think you’ve got to be prepared for everything. He’s a very good coach; look at his track record. He’s always been fairly aggressive. First game we’ve got to be prepared for everything. They were very aggressive in special teams last year and they have got a lot of those guys back. I expect them to be very aggressive on Saturday. We’ve got to be prepared for whatever presents itself.
"First games are very unique and you’ve got to be prepared for a lot of things. In first games, special teams are usually a factor one way or another. I’m sure they’re preaching the same thing. We’ve got to win the special teams battle.”
Freshmen Stephen Roberts and Tre Williams are on the depth chart? “Both of those guys have earned their way to get to that spot. We think that both of those guys will have the chance to be good players.”
Cancer survivor Shon Coleman is listed as a starter “You root for a guy like that--the fact that you’ve seen Shon grow and work through everything that he has to get to this point. I got a chance to recruit him and watch the whole process and it’s really special for me personally. He’s a football player and he doesn’t like all the extra attention. He’s just ready to go out there and play and we really expect him to play well. He was one of the top tackles in the entire country when he came out. He’s starting to get his strength back. It’s a lot of fun to watch him.”
Would you change staff members in the middle of the season? “I have a lot of confidence in the staff. My mind never even goes there. You look at what we did last year, we almost won the whole thing with the staff. We’ve got a lot of confidence in them.”
Jeremy Johnson’s experience level? “We have a very good idea of what we’re going to get with Jeremy. He’s been in game situations, he’s a year older, he’s been through spring, and he’s worked with the ones. We’ve got a lot of confidence in him. It is different than a starter you don’t know much about.”
On Coach Bielema’s comments about his depth chart and Auburn's depth chart? “I have a lot of respect for Coach. He coaches his program and I coach mine.”
On starting the season in the Top 10? “Obviously your goal is to repeat as SEC champions. It’s obviously tough to do. For 16-17 years we are going to have the same plan. We’ve got an extremely talented schedule and we are going to have the same plan we had last year-- we’re going one game at a time. That’s all you can do. We’ve got our hands full with this first one and that’s really the only thing on our mind.”
The importance of starting fresh after the BCS National Championship? “It’s very important. Our players and coaches are looking forward to that--to get back on the field and hopefully get that bad taste out of our mouth.”
Cameron Artis-Payne’s progress at running back? Right now we’ve got him and Corey Grant and that’s why we put ‘or’ on the depth chart. We have confidence in both of those guys to run our offense. I know Corey, last year, was more perimeter and all that, but he can run the whole offense and really has improved in a lot of areas. Cameron Artis-Payne is a very confident guy, with a lot of quality he showed last year, especially early. We know what we’re getting with him. He and Corey right now are 1 and 1A. We feel very comfortable running our entire offense and we’ll see how everything progresses as the season goes on.”
Special teams expectations? “On special teams we are going to have a new kicker, new punter, so that’s definitely a concern, but he is extremely talented. He is a great competitor so that’s important. What we really try to stress is let’s be better around him so we have a lot more experience around them on our punt team and kickoff team. That’s what we are preaching.”
On his kick returners? “We have four guys that can run and they all four can take it the house--I think that is critical. You will see all four back there at times and they work extremely hard. We are pleased with those four guys.”
On the wide receivers? “We have different packages. It’s obviously formations, personnel groups and all that. With the experience we have, it gives us a lot of flexibility to play a lot of people and that is critical, too, especially early in the season, with a game during the day. We have some depth at the position and I think that is critical.”
On Nick Marshall’s response to not starting as part of his punishment? “He has handled himself very well. He’s had a very good fall camp, like I’ve said before, not only on the field, but as a leader and he is ready to go when called upon.”
Facing Arkansas’ receivers? “I think they are going to be much improved, there is no doubt. I think they will take some chances and throw it deep. They’ve got some guys that can go after the football.”