FOUR DOWNS – NOTES FROM PRESEASON PRACTICE
1. Thud It Up
Arkansas linebackers coach Taver Johnson said it was pretty clear the Razorbacks didn’t tackle well during its Fan Day scrimmage last Saturday.
“It wasn’t very good at all,” Johnson said. “I think anybody that was at the scrimmage … My son was there and he’s 8 years old and he can tell.”
The defense’s struggles were most apparent during receiver Cobi Hamilton’s 65-yard touchdown catch, when the senior broke three tackles on his way to the end zone. So defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said cleaning up any physical and technical issues have been a big focus for the defense the entire week.
“It’s a term step to contact,” Haynes said. “And when you watch the tape, that’s what they weren’t doing. When you don’t do that, you’re going to lunge to contact and reach to contact and you’re going to miss against very good guys.”
Improving hasn’t included taking offensive players to the ground this week.
But Haynes said going that far isn’t required to improve tackling.
Instead, Haynes said the Razorbacks have worked on being more physical and “thudding up” on players in drill work throughout the week.
“If I think I can thud up, if I can thud a guy up — which means I come to balance, I do all the things, I wrap him up and then I let him run — if I can do that stuff in space I’m going to be able to tackle,” Haynes said. “It’s when you don’t do that in practice that you have problems with tackling, you just tag off and let guys run.”
Haynes didn’t put a number on the amount of missed tackles Arkansas registered during the scrimmage, but said “one is too many.” He also said the problems were apparent to defensive players, leaving no doubt there is room for improvement.
“This week we tried to go back to the fundamentals, stepping to contact, coming through your hips and breaking down,” Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers said.
2. No Worries For Tank, Highsmith?
Haynes said he is not concerned about the amount of time linebackers Alonzo Highsmith (hamstring) and Tenarius Wright (undisclosed issues related to collision with Knile Davis) have missed this preseason because of injuries.
Both players went down early in camp and have been slowed through much of the past two weeks. They were on the practice field during the open portion of practice Tuesday and participated Wednesday, according to teammates.
The seniors have not spent much time working together on the field together, but Haynes said they’ve received plenty of “mental reps.” When asked if he expected the duo to be ready for the opener, Haynes said: “So far, yeah.”
Neither player has been available for comment since suffering their injuries.
“They’ll be fine once they get back out there and get going,” Haynes said.
3. Who is No. 3?
It’s no secret Arkansas’ top two tight ends are senior Chris Gragg and junior Austin Tate. But who else can the Razorbacks count on when the season begins Sept. 1?
The No. 3 spot is currently held by walk-on Alex Voelzke, who has the edge on freshman Demetrius Dean. The redshirt freshman’s claim to fame at this point was last week’s impersonation of quarterback Tyler Wilson during the Kickoff Luncheon. But offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said Voelzke is performing on the field, too.
“He is a good football player, you know?” Petrino said. “He keeps working hard and gives great effort and keeps learning what he’s doing.”
The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Voelzke, who is from Longview, Texas, said he decided to walk on at Arkansas after turning down scholarship offers from a few smaller schools. He’s hopeful the decision will lead to playing time this season.
“I feel like I can go out there and prove myself,” Voelzke said.
4. Petrino Visits UAB
Former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino has spent Tuesday and Wednesday observing practices and visiting with the football staff at Alabama-Birmingham, according to the Birmingham News.
The Blazers are preparing for their first season under former Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee. UAB coaches Reggie Johnson, Brandon Sharp, Richard Owens and Jeff Brohm have also worked for Petrino in the past.
“It’s always good to have him around,” McGee told the Birmingham News. “He’s an expert at what he does. Anytime you can have an expert in the building it’s always good.”
UAB isn’t the first place Petrino has visited since being fired by Arkansas. ESPN also reported last month he had visited with the Tennessee Titans and Cal.
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau