Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Razorbacks football report:
Skipper’s not afraid to rumble
Arkansas tackle Dan Skipper runs drills during Thursday afternoon's practice in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas offensive lineman Dan Skipper has tangled with multiple teammates on the defensive side of the ball since his arrival, but he is adamant about who he really wants to rough up.
“I want to hit someone that isn’t a Razorback already,” Skipper wrote on his Twitter account this week.
Skipper and his teammates will have to wait until their Aug. 30 game at defending SEC champion Auburn to get that wish, but their next live hitting comes in today’s annual Red-White spring game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. is the most recent Razorback to go jaw-to-jaw with Skipper after getting after each other during a play.
“When you’re tired and hot and sweaty, he’s always coming at you,” Wise said.
“Every play he’s coming, coming. That’s what you want in an O-lineman.”
Wise said Skipper’s intensity can help a defensive lineman improve.
“What he shows on the field is what I’m going to see from other opponents,” Wise said. “It’s a big teaching tool.
He’s also big and long and he’s good, so whatever he throws my way I know how in the future how to react to it. That’s just how it is.”
Skipper, who started the final eight games last season, had his most notable on-field incident with Mississippi’s Robert Nkemdiche, another heralded freshman last year.
Skipper rushed in to protect quarterback Brandon Allen during the incident, which resulted in Nkemdiche’s ejection.
“You need to have that energy, that tough-man syndrome where you just go out there and hit somebody.
He’s got that,” Allen said of Skipper. “We’re working on him right now, just harnessing it and putting it into one play at a time.”
Senior TQ Coleman didn’t initially embrace it when the coaching staff asked him to try a hybrid safety-linebacker position this spring that often puts him closer to the line of scrimmage.
In fact, Coleman voiced his frustration in a Twitter post that landed him on what Coach Bret Bielema called “Twitter arrest.” But Coleman, 5-10, 207, said he’s learned to cope with the changes.
“It’s a lot more physical than defensive back, I can tell you that,” Coleman said. “I mean, you’re playing around with 330-pound linemen every play. It takes a toll on your body, especially with me being a 200-, 205-pound defensive back in the box.
But I’m mentally tough enough to do it, so I don’t really complain about it.”
Defensive coordinator Robb Smith and linebackers coach Randy Shannon said ideally Coleman would play more in underneath coverage against spread teams like Auburn and Texas Tech, who employ multiple receivers.
Coleman said his offending Tweet came from frustration.
“Especially this being like one of my last years and me feeling like I’m capable of doing some things that a lot of people can’t, but, I mean, it’s just a little frustration,” he said. “I really shouldn’t have even put that out there like that.”
Arkansas linebackers have been supportive of Coleman.
“He’s a cannibal,” middle linebacker Brooks Ellis said.
“He just goes in there and fires away. He’s big-time up in there.”
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was none too pleased when quarterback Brandon Allen scrambled and threw across his body on a red-zone play Tuesday that ended up an interception over the middle by safety Rohan Gaines.
“It’s third down and [I’m] trying to make a play that wasn’t there and forced it back across my body and he made a play on me,” Allen said. “It being third down, just throw it away and take the points.”
Mitch Smothers, who began spring practice at left guard, is closing it as a left handed-snapping first-team center.
Smothers made the move two weeks ago, swapping with senior Luke Charpentier. Smothers also played tackle earlier in his career.
“I think it helps the team a lot, being versatile like that,” Smothers said.
“Wherever I can help the team the most, that’s where I’ll be.”
In the details
Receivers coach Michael Smith said Keon Hatcher has done a better job of being detail-oriented in practice.
“It’s so much stuff,” Hatcher said. “Lining up my splits, being 1 yard from the hash on the route, being 2 yards from the sideline on the route. It’s just the smallest things that you wouldn’t think make a difference, but they make a big difference.
“The coaches are doing a great job helping us understand that, and we’re responding.”
Pass and pound
The Razorbacks have worked on their passing game more this spring than they did a year ago.
“We needed to improve it a lot,” quarterback Brandon Allen said. “Any time we can get that extra work in the passing game, it’s only going to benefit us.
“I think our mind-set really is still pound it, run the ball at people. We know we can do that. Just really getting the repetitions in the passing game and building the strength there is going to help us a lot.”
Sports, Pages 23 on 04/26/2014