1. Dean’s No Joe: Arkansas cornerback D.J. Dean is confident in his punt return skills. But the sophomore had a word of caution for everyone Thursday: He’s not Joe Adams.
“He was an electrifying player,” Dean said, referring to the record-setting Razorback, who returned four punts for touchdowns in 2011. “I’m pretty good, but I’m not Joe.”
Dean will get a chance to show off his return skills when Arkansas opens the season at Auburn on Aug. 30. The sophomore is expected to handle punt return duties for the Hogs, taking over the position a year after former receiver Javontee Herndon.
Herndon wasn’t asked to do much more than catch the ball cleanly. But the Razorbacks believe Dean is capable of giving them more in the return game.
“He’s just got a slippery attitude about him,” Arkansas receivers coach Michael Smith said. “He’s a guy that got to play last year, so it won’t be his first time out on the field. When he’s made plays in practice, he looks good back there doing it. He looks natural. That’s why we’ve got him back there right now.”
Arkansas averaged 7.4 yards on just nine punt returns last season and want the number to improve in 2014. Dean said his goal is to try to give the Razorbacks at least 10 yards each time he catches it with space to run.
“If I can do that, it’s just like getting a first down for the offense,” Dean said. “I’m going to try to get those guys rolling.”
Dean said he’s comfortable catching punts after handling return duties in high school. The former quarterback also said he returned two punts for touchdowns during his junior season and is aiming for similar success with the Razorbacks.
“If they just give me a little bit of space, I’m going to try to get the ball and see what I can do with it,” Dean said. “I’ve got a couple moves. I’m going to try to make the first guy miss and get vertical and try to go to the crib.”
2. All-SEC Razorbacks: Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers was among five Razorbacks named to the coaches’ preseason All-SEC team Thursday evening.
Flowers earned first-team honors after collecting 44 tackles, 13 ½ tackles for losses and five sacks last season. The senior also has been selected to preseason watch lists for the Nagurski, Bednarik, Hendricks and Lombardi awards.
Running back Alex Collins and punter Sam Irwin-Hill were named to coaches’ All-SEC second team. Running back Jonathan Williams and tight end Hunter Henry were selected to the third-team offense.
Alabama and LSU led the way with 11 representatives on the coaches’ preseason All-SEC team. Arkansas’ season-opening opponent, Auburn, had 10 picks.
3. Ellis Getting Closer: Middle linebacker Brooks Ellis is optimistic he’ll be ready for the opener at Auburn after missing time in preseason camp with a kneecap injury.
Ellis, who didn’t scrimmage last Saturday, said he participated in more portions of practice Thursday afternoon and is “feeling good.” The sophomore re-aggravated an injury he originally sustained in high school, but said it’s “not nearly as bad.”
“Not nearly the amount of recovery time as in high school,” Ellis said. “Getting better and feeling good right now. It’s just a little sore after practice, that’s about it.”
Ellis entered preseason camp as a key member of Arkansas’ defensive plans after starting the final four games of 2013. Junior college transfer Josh Williams has earned first-team work in Ellis’ absence.
4. Extra Points
• Redshirt freshman Damon Mitchell has temporarily returned to quarterback. Arkansas has asked the wide receiver to mimic Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall on the scout team in anticipation of the opener. Defensive end JaMichael Winston said Mitchell is doing a good job. “Duwop gives a great look. He doesn’t take it easy. He’s a very fast guy himself. He can kind of simulate Nick Marshall pretty good.”
• Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith said the Razorbacks haven’t decided whether he’ll work on the field or in the skybox on game days. Smith said he prefers being on the sideline, but a decision will be made next week. “I think just to get a chance to get a feel for the players, the speed of the game, the tempo,” Smith said about the sideline benefits. “It’s easier to adjust. But there’s merit for being up in the box for that, too. … We’ll make a determination next week as to what’s best.”
• Linebacker TQ Coleman believes discipline is key to success against Auburn: “Their game plan is really simple. They just kind of speed it up a lot. They run a play like every 10 to 12 seconds. So, doing that is to get you tired and you’re not thinking. Just be disciplined and do your job and they’re an easily beatable team.”
• Arkansas will hold its football kickoff luncheon at the NWA Convention Center in Springdale at noon. Doors open at 11:15 a.m. and general admission tickets are $25.
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau