Hogs: 8 try out for punt returner; Ellis back at LB; frosh DT Jackson to start at MSU
FAYETTEVILLE - Now it seems that Matt Emrich might not be just holding place-kicks Saturday when the Razorbacks meet No. 1 Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss.
No. 26, Rophan Gaines, to start
at SS vs. No. 1 Mississippi St.
Arkansas' third-year sophomore and El Dorado High graduate Emrich might try to hold on to punts in Saturday's 6:15 p.m. ESPN2-televised game.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema listed Emrich among the candidates this week for the punt return job after D.J. Dean belatedly tried to field a punt he fumbled to Alabama-Birmingham last Saturday followed by Demetrius Wilson fumbling the next UAB punt and barely recovering it.
"We had D.J. Dean, Jared Cornelius, Demetrius Wilson, Matt Emrich, Cody Hollister, Drew Morgan, Cornelius Floyd and Jojo Robinson," Bielema said Wednesday before the Razorbacks worked out Wednesday evening. "Those are the eight who stood out in my mind. All of them caught it and we'll see where they go."
"Did you say Emrich?," a startled caller asked. Emrich arrived as a walk-on deep-snapper candidate in 2012 but with current senior snapper Alan D'Appollonio entrenched, Emrich evolved (after redshirting) into the holder for Zach Hocker's 2013 place-kicks, and he has held for all Arkansas field goals and PATs this season.
"Uh-huh," Bielema said. "He was a punt-returner in high school. A lot of times those guys who are specialists have a lot of time on their hands and they catch punts. It's been my knowledge throughout my career that those guys can actually catch the ball pretty well."
How did Emrich react?
"He volunteered for it," Bielema said. "He came to me and our special teams coaches and asked for the opportunity to go back there and do it and looked pretty good."
Robinson, the heralded freshman receiver/returner from Miami set back by August preseason injuries, is on course to redshirt. Would Bielema activate him with just four games to go in a 4-4/ 0-4 SEC season?
"As far as a kid who could play that's a redshirt or not, that really is in the young man's hands," Bielema said. "I ask guys the first game of the year if they want to play, and they tell me yes or no. The same thing could apply to us now."
Bielema said he was recently on the verge of activating redshirting freshman defensive back Santos Ramirez.
"I went to a young man a couple of weeks ago and he was going to play, but he re-injured his hamstring," Bielema said. "Santos Ramirez, we thought he could help us but unfortunately that couldn't happen. It's really up to the guys to make that decision themselves."
ELLIS, TOLIVER BACK
Sophomore starting middle linebacker Brooks Ellis of Fayetteville, idled the last two games by a deep knee bruise, returned in full pads Tuesday and practiced Wednesday, too.
"Brooks practiced yesterday (Tuesday) and had a great day," Bielema said. "The big thing you always hold your breath on is coming in the day afterward. He was in at 6 a.m. bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and had no regression whatsoever."
Freshman cornerback Henre Toliver, missing the UAB game with a back bruise, practiced on a limited basis Tuesday and set for more work Wednesday evening.
Freshman cornerback Henre Toliver practiced Wednesday off his partial Tuesday practice having missed the UAB game with a bruised back.
Can Toliver help Saturday?
"I hope so," Arkansas defensive backfield coach Clay Jennings. "You never know. He practiced today so we'll just have to wait and see how it feels like in the morning and we'll go from there."
GAINES TO START
Fourth-year junior Davyon "Sleepy" McKinney got a surprise start last week ahead of fourth-year junior Rohan Gaines whose No. 26 has adorned the starting strong safety spot all season.
Who starts against Mississippi State?
"It will probably end up being No. 26," Jennings said. "I thought both guys had a good week last week - 26 needed a wakeup call just a little bit. As long as there is a little heat everybody starts getting in the right place doing the right thing. Both of them had a pretty good week, though."
FROSH DT VISITS NO. 1 MSU
Freshman backup defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado has logged increased playing time heading into the Razorbacks taking the national stage on ESPN2 against the nation's No. 1 team.
"It's crazy me as a freshman playing the No. 1 team in the nation," Jackson said. "I think we're ready."
What's he ready for?
"It's the No. 1 team in the country, and you expect the best effort to from them," Jackson said. "We have a good game plan and the confidence to give it everything we've got being the team we know we are."
Mississippi State 5-9, 215-pound running back Josh Robinson, called the "human bowling ball," has netted 887 yards and 10 touchdowns on 121 carries. Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott (6-2, 230) is State's second-leading rusher with 664 yards and 10 TDs on 124 carries> The Heisman Trophy candidiate has completed 114 of 189 passes for 1,694 yards and 15 TDs with five interceptions.
They get plenty of blocking.
"It's a good offensive line probably the best we have faced this season," Jackson said. "We have to be disciplined and stay in our gaps and attack the line of scrimmage. Gap control is the main thing. Stay disciplined as a defense and we will be able to contain them."
Jennings was asked about the run-pass pressure Prescott puts on the secondary.
"He does a great job extending plays," Jennings said. "Anytime you have a dual-threat guy back there he is always a threat. If he has a chance to either get to the perimeter or catch a seam in the middle it's like having an extra running back back, plus he has got a tremendous arm. A lot of his passes are play-action and they do a tremendous job setting up the play-action with the perimeter run. Guys have to get their eyes in the right place and be disciplined."