FOUR DOWNS – NOTES FROM PRESEASON PRACTICE
1. Making an Impression
Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson noticed the new faces standing on the sideline during preseason practices last week. It was hard to miss them.
They wore San Francisco 49ers shirts, Miami Dolphins hats and other NFL team colors. They carried notepads, watched intently and scribbled observations.
“They’ve been pretty regular,” Wilson said last Friday, after Arkansas wrapped up another week with its Fan Day scrimmage. “So you get to see them often.”
It’s no secret Arkansas has a number of intriguing NFL prospects on its 2012 roster with Wilson, running back Knile Davis, receiver Cobi Hamilton and tight end Chris Gragg leading the way. So it’s also no surprise scouts from pro football teams have spent time watching the Razorbacks on the practice field the past two weeks.
But even Wilson and the rest of the Razorbacks noticed more than usual last week, with Arkansas tallying as many as nine scouts from eight teams at one practice.
“That stuff gets you pumped up,” Hamilton said about noticing scouts on the sideline. “You recognize it when you first get out there. But once you get going and that fast pace that we go, it’s kind of hard to doze off and see who is watching.”
Still, Hamilton and Wilson put on a show during that morning practice in front of scouts from Baltimore, Miami, Pittsburgh, Denver, Jacksonville, Oakland, Minnesota and Arizona. The two connected on several passes, including a pair of over-the-shoulder catches hauled in by Hamilton deep down the sideline.
Wilson joked the big plays were by design.
“I told the ball boy to give me some good snaps so I can put on a clinic here,” Wilson said about the pass skeleton drills.
He also added the notoriety is good for the program, which has been on a steady climb the past few seasons. Wilson is projected as a first-round pick in next April’s draft, while several other Hogs are touted as being among the best at their positions.
So Wilson and Hamilton believe the turnout of scouts is another sign Arkansas has the type of talent needed to compete an SEC championship.
“It gets you fired up to let you know what kind of potential this Arkansas team has,” Hamilton said. “Great players we have here. It’s going to be fun. I’m just really excited for the season. There’s a lot of big names on this team. We’ve got big goals.”
2. Injured Trio Update
Arkansas coach John L. Smith said last Friday he hoped injured linebackers Tenarius Wright and Alonzo Highsmith, as well as safety Eric Bennett, would return to practice Monday. It sounded as if they weren’t back at full speed Monday, though.
“I think Highsmith got a few reps (Monday),” Arkansas defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell said after the closed practice. “Tank will hopefully be back (today) depending on how everything went with him (Monday).”
Neither player has been full speed since the first week of preseason camp. Highsmith has been sidelined by a hamstring injury, while Wright left the field during an early practice after a collision with running back Knile Davis.
The two, along with Bennett, are expected to lead a defense leaning on youth and inexperience at other positions. But Caldwell said the Razorbacks aren’t concerned about the missed practice time. He said the goal is to have both ready for Alabama.
“You give them these two weeks and we play that first game (against Jacksonville State), then the next game (against Louisiana-Monroe),” Caldwell said. “I think by the time we get to Alabama (on Sept. 15) we’ll be fine.”
3. New Practice Fields
Arkansas held its first closed practice of the season Monday and did so on the new elevated practice fields, which are located south of the Walker Pavilion.
The fields — one natural grass and one synthetic turf — were constructed this summer to replace the previous fields, which were north of the pavilion. It’s part of a project that also includes the construction of the Football Operations Center.
“I was lost to be honest with you,” Caldwell said about the first practice on the new fields. “It felt like you’re in a whole new place getting organized. But it’s just a beautiful facility. We’re blessed to have it.
“Once we get the organization of it all cleaned up it’s going to be nice.”
Defensive tackle Alfred Davis said there was a noticeable difference in temperature on the synthetic turf field. He also said there was a different feel to the fields.
“You’ve got these brick walls up and you feel like you’re just in a dungeon,” Davis said. “A two football field dungeon, and you’re just playing ball. It’s a little different.”
4. Extra Points
CBS is spending the 2012 season with the Razorbacks, putting together a seven-part series that will air on the CBS Sports Network beginning Aug. 29. A crew has been in Fayetteville throughout much of the preseason, following the team from the locker rooms, meetings rooms to practice getting footage for the first show. The crews will continue to follow the Razorbacks throughout the season. … RB Dennis Johnson returned to practice Monday after missing Saturday’s scrimmage. Johnson’s grandmother, Ira Williams, died last week. … Caldwell said he still hasn’t decided which freshmen defensive ends will play this season. He plans to “keep them hungry” before making some decisions in the next few days.
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau