FOUR DOWNS – ARKANSAS SPRING PRACTICE NOTES
1. Walker Returns
Arkansas running back Kody Walker was expected to participate in contact drills this spring as he continued to work his way back from last September’s broken leg.
But with one week remaining until the spring-ending Red-White Game, Walker got his first contact work during Arkansas’ practice-ending scrimmage session Saturday.
Walker carried the ball three times and caught a pass during Arkansas’ 14-play segment of red zone and goal line work in Razorback Stadium. It was his first live action since the season-ending injury and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said the decision to let Walker scrimmage was made just before practice.
“He came up to us and said, ‘Coach, I’d really like to scrimmage (Saturday) in the red zone/goal line and get tackled,’” Bielema said. “So we let him full go (Saturday).
“It was kind of in his hands. Obviously, he’d been cleared 100 percent by the medical staff and looked good.”
Walker has been participating in practices this spring, but had not carried the football during the team’s first two scrimmage sessions open to the media.
He has experienced some soreness on his surgically repaired leg and Bielema said the Razorbacks told him to back off his workload last week. Bielema’s hope was that Walker could rest up and be ready for his debut in the Red-White Game.
But Walker couldn’t wait. He tallied 15 yards on his four touches Saturday.
Arkansas believes the big back – who spent most of his first two years on campus as a fullback – can help them in the run game next season. He has rushed for six touchdowns on 21 carries during his career, primarily serving as a goal line runner.
Bielema said the training staff has been happy with Walker’s progress. His work this spring may help him factor into the backfield rotation next season.
“I’m very, very intrigued by what he brings to the table,” Bielema said.
2. Allen Connects
Arkansas hasn’t declared a winner in its quarterback race this spring. But sophomore Brandon Allen continued to work with the first-team offense Saturday, while senior Brandon Mitchell worked with the second-team group.
Allen was sharp throwing the deep ball during the workout, connecting with receivers Javontee Herndon and Demetrius Wilson for big plays.
“I thought our offense today at times in the early parts looked really, really good,” Bielema said. “Brandon Allen especially looked very crisp on some of his throws. Stepping up in the pocket and doing some things that we’ve asked him to do, and now finally grasping them a little bit.”
Bielema indicated Allen will continue to work with the first-team offense during the final week of spring practice and again in the Red-White Game on Saturday. He wants the quarterback to continue to mesh with the rest of the first-team unit.
“You can only get better by playing with one another,” Bielema said. “That’s a big part of it. I think Brandon gets that and the more he continues to have success, obviously, our offense grows too.”
3. No Hurd
Arkansas practiced without left tackle David Hurd on Saturday. Bielema said the senior was out after spraining a medial collateral ligament in his knee Tuesday. He also came down with appendicitis on Wednesday and may not return this spring.
“I told him ‘I’m not shaking your hand the rest of the week. You’re just like a little taboo right now,’” Bielema said. “I don’t know if we’ll get him next week, but nothing significant. He’ll be with us obviously soon thereafter.
Sophomore Austin Beck worked with the first-team offense in Hurd’s place on Saturday, while Chris Stringer was with the second-team. Bielema said Stringer also has been dealing with a minor injury this week, pushing Beck to a first-team role.
“The part that he’s probably had to handle the most is just being on an island at that position, being able to understand that you are the blind side,” Bielema said. “To be able to understand that it’s critical for him to have success inside-out. He has a tendency to overset both run and pass, which allows people to come underneath. It’s been a great attitude for him, but obviously a lot of progress we’ve got to make.”
4. Extra Points
Bielema said he wants 50,000 fans in attendance for the spring-ending Red-White Game and offered some incentive Saturday. He said Arkansas will scrimmage its first-team offense against the starting defense for at least half of the spring game. “You’ll see the best of Arkansas on both sides of the ball going at it,” Bielema said. “I want our best players to play together, and I want them to play against the best competition we can field.” … Linebacker Robert Atiga turned in the play of the practice Saturday, stepping in front of a pass from Mitchell and returning it 85 yards for a touchdown during red zone drills. … Cornerback Jared Collins worked with the first-team defense in place of Will Hines on Saturday. Hines worked with the second-team unit, practicing with a minor hip injury. Both are part of a four-man rotation that includes Tevin Mitchel and Carroll Washington this spring … Davyon McKinney and Kelvin Fisher Jr. both started the spring at cornerback, but have moved to safety to help the Razorbacks at the position. … Guard Jonathan McClure left practice early after being “banged up,” according to Bielema.
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau