Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas-Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
Not typical freshmen
Partridge happy with help up front
Arkansas defensive end Jamichael Winston warms up prior to the Razorbacks' Red-White Game on April 20, 2013 in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas returns a pair of all-conference caliber veterans at defensive end this season, but a trio of redshirt freshmen have Razorbacks coaches excited about the future at the position.
Jamichael Winston, Deatrich Wise Jr. and Brandon Lewis have impressed first-year defensive line coach Charlie Partridge through the first five days of practice, including Friday when Arkansas donned full pads for the first time.
""I'm sure glad to be able to say the word 'freshman' with all three of those guys," Partridge said. "Sometimes I have to remind myself of that when they make a nice play. We're very excited about where they are knowing they have four years of eligibility left."
Wise is the third defensive end right now behind senior Chris Smith and junior Trey Flowers, Partridge said, though he added, "Winston and Lewis have really picked their game up and closed the gap. They've become a group that is going to be a fun battle to watch."
The decision to redshirt all three last season seemed curious to some at the time, particularly when Tenarius Wright was moved to linebacker from the position. Wise said in retrospect it was the right choice to sit out.
"My techniques are more solid than last year," Wise said. "We've all grown in size and speed, and strength. The redshirt gave us a window to see what happened last year and what not to do or what to do."
Second down: Defensive tackles
Having never worked with the same position coach consecutive years, senior defensive tackles Byran Jones and Robert Thomas have remained consistent this preseason.
"Byran has been through a lot of different coaching styles and thankfully he's embraced me," Partridge said. "There's a sense of urgency. I think he's going to embrace the fundamentals. He's been a good leader and I'm excited about where he's going at this point.
"Robert is having a really good camp. He's quick right now and his fundamentals are in order. He's being very productive and I'm very excited about him right now. He's ready to explode."
Developing depth behind the two stoppers in the middle will be key before the season begins later this month. Taiwan Johnson, who signed as a defensive end in 2012, has split time between defensive tackle and end this preseason.
"He's put on some good weight," Partridge said. "He's in the 270s, which isn't your traditional 310-pound defensive tackle, but if a kid plays with leverage, I've seen kids smaller than that have success in major college football. If he can give us some reps and help spell some guys, he'll be an asset to our football team."
Third down: Scrimmage time
Arkansas will scrimmage for the first time Saturday and coaches are hopeful bad defensive habits from the spring are a thing of the past.
The scrimmage is the first of three this preseason for the Razorbacks. It will be the second practice Saturday when the team begins two-a-days.
"I'm anxious to see how the kids respond to changes in momentum," Partridge said. "That's was one of the things in the spring we felt we needed to improve. If the offense makes a big play, which they will, how are we going to respond? Are we going to respond with over-emotion and panic, or are we going to say, 'Let's go on to the next play and do our job?'
"Those are the good defenses that can get themselves back together ever after the offense has success and can go play another play. That's what we're hoping happens tomorrow."
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema announced Friday morning he would open the practice to the public. All of the first week's practices had previously been closed, but Bielema said the progress the team made through the first four days changed his mind about Saturday's access.
Assistant coaches said everyone will be happy to see some new faces at practice.
"Some players have never been on the field in front of that many fans, so they get nervous," defensive coordinator Chris Ash said. "Luckily we had several people show up to our spring game and it helped alleviate some of that. The energy, the excitement and the enthusiasm just goes up another notch when the fans are out there. They want to put on a show and play well in front of people. They want people to say good things about them.
"Now, can they be able to stay within themselves mentally in those situations?"
Gates for the scrimmage will open at 3:30 p.m. with the practice beginning about 20 minutes later. Fans are asked to enter through Gate 1 on the west side of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Fourth down: Depth chart
There have been only a couple of changes to the defensive depth chart released at the end of spring practice, Ash said.
Those changes were at linebacker, Ash said, though he didn't specify further. Austin Jones ran with the first team at middle linebacker Wednesday after being listed second team sam linebacker in the spring. Braylon Mitchell said Friday he was still working at first team sam linebacker.
"I'm pretty much just working at sam, but if you can play sam linebacker, you can play will linebacker," Mitchell said. "I like sam better."
Ash said Saturday's scrimmage will go a long way toward solidifying the current depth chart.
"There's still some competition at a lot of spots, so we'll see what happens tomorrow," Ash said. "Competition brings out the best in everybody, so hopefully it does tomorrow."