1. Newcomers Impact Depth Chart: Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said before preseason camp his 2014 signing class would have an opportunity to make an impact right away.
The Razorbacks’ depth chart proved the newcomers had success in preseason camp.
Eleven newcomers — including seven true freshmen — were listed on Arkansas’ depth chart for Saturday’s season opener at sixth-ranked Auburn. None of the 2014 class members are in starting roles, but Bielema said each will play a role Saturday.
It includes second-team offensive linemen Cameron Jefferson (left tackle), Sebastian Tretola (left guard), Frank Ragnow (center) and Brian Wallace (right tackle). All four have helped Arkansas improve its depth along the offensive front.
“Cameron Jefferson has had an exceptional last 10 days of camp,” Bielema said. “He’s a guy that bring us a lot to the table whether it be at the tight end position, inside at guard or we can pop him into some big formations. (Left guard) Luke Charpentier has had a very solid camp, but Sebastian Tretola has really opened our eyes. He is playing exceptional football. In such a short time he dropped from about 375 down to 355, in three or four weeks of camp. Mitch Smothers will start for us at center, but I do expect Frank Ragnow to play. Frank has had a really, really nice close to camp.”
Bielema’s hope is that Arkansas can play as many linemen as possible at Auburn.
“We’ve got that big O-line now with depth that we’ve never had,” Bielema said. “The more we can get seven linemen out there with two tight ends and a couple of backs, I think those are good things — to let guys be more engaged at being starters and having an effect on the game plan.”
Ragnow and Wallace join a large list of contributing true freshmen that includes receiver Jared Cornelius, nose guard Bijhon Jackson, linebacker Dwayne Eugene, cornerback Henre’ Toliver and safety Josh Liddell. But Bielema said those seven probably won’t be the only true freshmen to earn playing time this season.
He also expects receivers Kendrick Edwards and Jojo Robinson, and linebackers Khalia Hackett and Randy Ramsey to contribute. Bielema also said defensive lineman Anthony Brown and cornerbacks Cornelius Floyd and Santos Ramirez are “strong possibilities” for playing time when the Razorbacks travel to Auburn.
“We’re going to play more freshmen than I’ve ever probably played before,” Bielema said. “Not out of need, but just because they’re very, very good players.”
2. Roll With It: Arkansas doesn’t know how much Auburn plans to play quarterbacks Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson on Saturday. But Bielema said the Razorbacks will be ready to “roll with it” no matter how much the two are on the field.
Johnson is expected to start the game in place of Marshall, who is being punished for an offseason incident in which he was cited for possession of marijuana. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn hasn’t offered any specifics regarding the length of Marshall’s punishment, though. But he has said both quarterbacks will play Saturday.
“Whatever shows up, whatever shows up in the backfield, whatever person starts and whatever person lines up on the field, we’ve just got to roll with it and make the best of a situation,” Bielema said.
Bielema added he didn’t see Auburn’s offense changing much whether Marshall or Johnson play in the opener. He said the biggest change in Auburn’s offense could come at wide receiver, where newcomers are expected to make a difference.
“If there’s one area that’s kind of being overlooked, in my opinion, is they signed a couple really good players and the perimeter players from a year ago are back and have a lot of gifted speed,” Bielema said. “So that’s our biggest concern.”
3. Wise Will Play: Bielema said defensive end Deatrich Wise, who was sidelined during preseason camp because of a knee injury, will be ready to play against Auburn.
“It’s huge,” Bielema said of Wise’s return. “Deatrich is a very engaging player. I think he brings a little spice, a little energy. He’s a very good pass rusher. I think that’s one of his strengths. He’s a big body as far as just looking right and looking the part.”
Wise — who had 17 tackles and 2 sacks last season — is listed as the co-starter at the defensive end spot opposite senior Trey Flowers. He’s sharing the starting position with sophomore JaMichael Winston, who worked with the first-team defense throughout Wise’s absence.
“I think Mike took this as a chance to for me to prove my worth,” Bielema said. “He’s practiced extremely hard. Very conscientious, very detailed. The result of that is we’ve got two very good players with (Brandon Lewis) backing that up.”
4. Extra Points
• Cornerback Tevin Mitchel won’t be in the starting lineup when the Razorbacks play Saturday. But Bielema said it’s because the senior is just getting back to full strength from a hamstring injury in camp. Carroll Washington and Jared Collins are listed as the first-team cornerbacks for the opener.
• Right guard Denver Kirkland missed time in camp because of a head injury. But Bielema said the sophomore will be ready to start against Auburn. “He got back in full swing on Friday in the mock game and looked great (Sunday) night,” Bielema said. “So, I really don’t see him being anything but a positive this coming Saturday.”
• Arkansas doesn’t have a fullback listed on its depth chart. Injuries at the position have affected plans considering Kody Walker, Tyler Colquitt and Chris Jones have all missed time. Bielema said Walker and Patrick Arinze are Arkansas top options.
• Tretola was listed at 315 pounds on team’s depth chart Monday. Bielema acknowledged the error after being asked if he’s ever seen Tretola, who actually weighs 355 pounds, at 315: “I imagine it was eighth grade.”
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau