Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Hogs buy into Dean for return
Arkansas cornerback D.J. Dean fields a punt during practice Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- D.J. Dean is hoping to put some punch into Arkansas' punt returns this fall.
"I've got a couple moves," Dean said with a smile. "I'm going to try to make the first guy miss and get vertical and try to go to the crib."
The Razorbacks had nine punt returns for 67 yards last season, both SEC lows, when the focus was on having wide receiver Javontee Herndon fair catch punts.
Arkansas' coaches are expecting more from Dean, a sophomore cornerback.
"We've got a guy back there now that I think is going to make a lot of plays for us," said receivers coach Michael Smith, who works with the returners. "He's just got a slippery attitude about him. He's always cutting, juking, making guys miss.
"I don't think he's Joe Adams, but he's going to suffice for us back there."
Adams, a receiver with the Houston Texans, returned 36 punts for 570 yards -- a 15.8-yard average -- for the Razorbacks from 2008-2011. He returned five punts for touchdowns, including a 51-yarder against Kansas State in the 2012 Cotton Bowl.
Dean said he's watched a lot of game tape on Adams.
"He was an electrifying player," Dean said. "I'm pretty good, but I'm not Joe."
Dean returned punts for Newton (Texas) High School.
"I took a few back," he said. "If I didn't take it back, I took it for good yardage."
Smith said Dean looks natural catching the ball, a trait Dean attributes to playing quarterback in high school and often lining up to take Shotgun snaps.
"You know the quarterback has got the best hands," he said. "I was catching the ball all the time."
Smith said it will be huge for the Razorbacks to gain more "hidden yards" in the return game.
"When you put the offense on the field with 40 or 30 yards to score a touchdown, you're going to be successful," Smith said.
Dean said he hopes to average at least 10 yards per return.
"If I can do that, it's just like getting a first down for the offense," he said. "I'm going to try to get those guys rolling."
Nick or Jeremy
Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith knows Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn said preseason All-SEC quarterback Nick Marshall will not start Saturday, which will likely turn the reins over to 6-5 sophomore Jeremy Johnson for a period of time against the Hogs.
But Smith isn't getting caught up in preparing two different styles for the dual-threat quarterbacks.
"We're just preparing for Auburn in general," Smith said. "They've got two very good quarterbacks and very good personnel across the offense. The thing we're focused on right now is making sure we can align and adjust and execute to the tempo we need."
Malzahn has given no indication the amount of game time Marshall will be held out.
With defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr., questionable for the opener with a bruised knee, the Razorbacks could go with any one of three sophomores -- Wise, JaMichael Winston or Brandon Lewis -- in his first start opposite senior Trey Flowers.
"Deatrich is getting better every day, and JaMichael we certainly have been pleased with, so I think we'll have answers," defensive coordinator Robb Smith said.
Lewis underwent minor off-season knee surgery and has been limited in camp.
Close to home
Several Razorbacks will be playing in the vicinity of their hometowns Saturday, including defensive linemen Darius Philon and JaMichael Winston, both of Vigor High School in Prichard, Ala., outside Mobile.
Defensive end Trey Flowers is from Huntsville in northern Alabama, and the family of safety Rohan Gaines won't have far to travel from Bainbridge, Ga., in the southern part of the state.
Linebacker Braylon Mitchell said the Razorbacks are ready for Auburn after three weeks of camp.
"I'm pretty sure everybody else on the defense and on the offense is ready to see somebody else," Mitchell said.
#NeverYield and follow @wholehogsports on Twitter now for breaking news and score updates.
Mitchell said the Razorbacks did a good job of fighting through fatigue and heat last week.
"We're still flying around and getting done what the coaches want," he said.
Defensive coordinator Robb Smith said cornerback Jared Collins had a stronger second scrimmage of camp after struggling with coverage in the first scrimmage.
"Jared's a prideful guy," Smith said. "He worked hard. He took some of the challenges head on and he met them, which is important for us. That shows growth. That shows improvement. That's what you're all about in the game of football."
The Razorbacks enjoyed Saturday as their first day without practices or meetings since camp opened.
Arkansas will practice today and have Monday off before getting in its final three days of heavy work in preparation for the season opener at Auburn.
Sports on 08/24/2014