"We're playing him more now (in practice) so he's ready to go," Brown said, adding that Smith's two-week absence meant that he was physically not ready to play against the Hogs.
Smith entered August camp at first-team SAM linebacker but yielded his spot to journeyman Eric Hall. Coaches attributed the position switch to Hall's edge over Smith in pass coverage skills. Smith started 2003 at first-team MLB but suffered a season-ending ankle injury before halftime of the home opener. Brown would later describe Smith's injury as the most critical of the 2003 season.
RB Erik Hardeman is still not academically eligible to play although the RS-freshman continues to practice, Brown confirmed.
"I figure they (academic counselors) will tell us when they know something," Brown said.
True freshman Ramonce Taylor has established himself as RB Cedric Benson's primary backup now that junior Selvin Young has been lost for the season (fracture right ankle). SS Drew Kelson is now No. 3 on the RB depth chart.
"He's lost enough weight now," Brown said. "He's down to 245 from 260. When we're resting Cedric in the one-back, we can use him. We can use Drew and Ramonce in the two-back."
Kelson earned prep All-American honors at SS but also started at RB for Houston Lamar.
"He's just a big frame," Brown said of the 210-pounder. "He's really a bright young man and he's been a tailback. Ramonce has had a real good week of practice and we feel like these two guys will give us a chance to be able to spell Cedric some."
Return game depth chart changes, however, remain a question mark.
"We're still looking at what we should do with kickoff and punt returns because we're not sure yet," Brown said. "When you lose Nathan Vasher and Selvin Young, that's two of the best returners in our school's history. (CB) Aaron Ross was slowed by a hamstring and he's playing a lot. (CB) Tarell Brown is playing a lot. (FS) Phillip Geiggar is playing a lot. You lose a lot of the quickness and speed from a guy who's really tired trying to return kicks and punts. We had Selvin to come in and rest Cedric on third downs and passing situations. We also had him fresh for punts and kickoffs, so we're in a little bit more of a bind there than we've been. We've got to figure out this week what we're going to do and we're not sure yet."