1. Schiano Has Faith in Defense: Former Rutgers and Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano spent roughly 36 hours with the Arkansas coaching staff earlier this week.
And he likes what he sees in the Razorbacks’ preparation for Auburn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense in the season opener on Aug. 30.
“Now, because I’ve been in meetings the last 36 hours, anything I say can and will be used against me,” Schiano said. “So you’re going to have to wait. Next Saturday you’re going to see. I’ve got faith. I’ve got faith in the Razorback defense.”
Schiano shared his thoughts on Arkansas’ defense during a guest speaking appearance at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club on Wednesday. Robb Smith, who was an assistant on Schiano’s staff at both Rutgers (2009-11) and Tampa Bay (2013), is preparing for his first season as Arkansas’ defensive coordinator.
Schiano said Tampa’s loss is Arkansas’ gain because Smith is one of his “all-time favorite coaches.” He has no doubt Smith will improve the defense.
“Everywhere he’s been, he’s been very productive,” Schiano said. “So he’ll do a great job here. He’s just got to get his system taught. They’ll play hard, though. I guarantee you from day one you’ll see a defense that runs to the football.”
Smith’s first test isn’t an easy one, though. The Razorbacks will face a powerful Auburn offense that averaged 286 rushing yards in conference games en route to the SEC title. Schiano said he was shocked when Smith showed him the statistics, but said Auburn’s Gus Malzhan is a “tremendous football coach.”
“How do you stop it?,” Schiano said. “I think you have to outdiscipline them. You have to play with more precision than they execute with. Because they hurry up, and they’re moving, moving, moving. They’re just counting on you making a mistake.”
Schiano also said another key is making sure Arkansas isn’t hurt by the deep ball. He watched Auburn’s performance in the national title game against Florida State and said the Tigers had receivers running wide open down the middle of the field.
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall only attempted eight passes against Arkansas last season, but did sting the Razorbacks with a deep ball.
Marshall threw an 88-yard touchdown pass to receiver Sammie Coates and finished 7-for-8 for 118 yards during Auburn’s 35-17 win in Razorback Stadium.
“If they can avoid letting that big pass play go over top and just play disciplined football, it’s going to be a real tight game,” Schiano said. “Now if the ball goes flying over the top, that’s how they blow the game open.”
2. J-Will ‘Fresh’: Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams said he felt good after participating in most of Wednesday’s practice. Williams had been sidelined since suffering a hamstring injury during Arkansas’ first scrimmage on Aug. 9.
“I’ve got fresh legs,” Williams said. “I was able to go out there and do most of practice. It’s just trying to ease me into it, but it’s feeling real good.”
Arkansas said several times Williams’ hamstring injury wasn’t severe, but planned to hold the junior out until he was completely healthy. He didn’t participate in last Saturday’s scrimmage, but said the down time was a good decision.
“Hamstrings can kind of linger,” Williams said. “So we just didn’t want that to happen. That’s why I’m slowly getting back into it. But it’s feeling real good.”
Williams’ return means Arkansas is back to full strength in the backfield for the first time since early in preseason camp. Running backs coach Joel Thomas said it’s good timing with the other two — sophomores Alex Collins and Korliss Marshall — working through the third week of preseason camp.
“The other two obviously appreciate having everybody in there now with the way our legs are now but it’s two-a-days,” Thomas said. “Everybody is tired.”
3. What Birthday?: Arkansas has been locked into its camp routine for the past three weeks. So much so, apparently, that Marshall didn’t realize it was his birthday last Saturday.
“Throughout the course of camp you’re not really concerned about the days,” Marshall said. “You’re waking up and just coming over here to camp. I actually forgot my birthday. I was just waking up, going over here and going to sleep.”
It ended up being a pretty good day, though. Marshall closed the scrimmage with a 57-yard touchdown run, finishing with 102 yards on eight carries. He also scored three touchdowns, capping another impressive scrimmage performance.
“It felt really good to be around my team on my birthday,” Marshall said.
4. Extra Points
• Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said the Tigers will carry confidence into the opener. “They just came off the national championship game,” Chaney said. “They’ve got a big ‘S’ on their chests down there and they’re very good. And it’s warranted. Not many teams got to do that.”
• Cornerback D.J. Dean is on track to enter the season as Arkansas’ punt returner, according to receivers coach Michael Smith. “He’s a guy that has a little talent to make people miss back there,” Smith said about the attributes that have helped Dean grab the position. “But right now, the consistency at catching the ball and making the right calls and going to the right place.”
• Quarterback Brandon Allen said cleanliness was key to the first-team offense’s success in last Saturday’s scrimmage. “We didn’t have any turnovers, any penalties,” Allen said. “I wanted a real clean scrimmage and I think that’s exactly what we got. It kind of showed that when we’re clean like that, we can execute well.”
• Smith said the Razorbacks still believe they have five receivers they’re counting on his season. But freshmen Kendrick Edwards and Jojo Robinson continue to make a push for playing time as well. “I’m getting more comfortable with Jojo and Kendrick,” Smith said. “I don’t know how much they’ll play in the first game, but I do see them getting on the bus at least.”
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau