Arkansas' Bret Bielema will lead his team into its first SEC game on Saturday night in Razorback Stadium.
Junior walk-on AJ Derby will likely be taking snaps from Travis Swanson again this week.
The Razorbacks will play No. 10 Texas A&M. While the Aggies will have their Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at quarterback it appears the Razorbacks will once again go with junior walk-on AJ Derby. Bielema didn't rule out Brandon Allen playing, but doesn't appear overly optimistic either.
“Nothing has changed really with BA,” Bielema said of Allen. “He was out there on Tuesday and Wednesday. I gave him the day off today.
“He didn't do all of practice and was limited to the running game to get his timing back there in case something happens between now and Saturday. If the doctor could sign him off at a 100-percent I would, but otherwise we'll stay with AJ as our quarterback and Austin (Allen) behind him.”
Arkansas is getting most of its missing pieces back with the exception of Allen. Sophomore wide receiver Keon Hatcher once again drew praise from Bielema. Senior tight end Austin Tate, safety Rohan Gaines and sophomore wide receiver D'Arthur Cowan are also back and playing now. Tate, Gaines and Hatcher played in the Rutgers game, but Cowan will see the field for the first time on Saturday. He broke his foot in preseason and was just cleared to practice full speed on Monday of this week. Bielema said that Cowan will get similar reps this week to what Hatcher got against Rutgers.
“D'Arthur was limited on Tuesday a little bit, but Wednesday and Thursday full go a 100-percent,” Bielema said. “That gives us two receivers we haven't had in the bag.
“Defensively, Rohan Gaines will start the game. He's back at 100-percent and I'm really excited to get him back in the lineup. He has been moving around extremely well going back to last Saturday where we are today. If we start in the nickel, Alan Turner will be back there with him.”
Allen hasn't played since scoring on a 5-yard run against Southern Miss in the third game of the season. While he will likely won't play against the Aggies, a return appears very near for him according to Bielema.
“Judging by where he was last week to where he is today where he will be next week I would think so,” Bielema said when asked if Allen would likely play against Florida. “The only concern is he's going to tell you he can go a lot earlier than the doctor says he can, but I'm just worried if there's anything that could become problematic if he takes a hit or anything.
Sophomore Rohan Gaines will return to the starting lineup this week after playing limited snaps last week.
“He's a lot better. I was holding out hope last week, I think everybody was, but when we had this thing they said it was going to be a three-to-four week deal. To think he was going to come back in two was probably a little optimistic.”
Bielema said he remains confident in both Derby and Austin Allen as the quarterback.
“AJ, I know this will be his second collegiate start,” Bielema said. “He's had another week of preparation as far as getting a handle of not just the game plan, but all the dynamics.
“Where to go with the ball and where to check to with all the looks. A&M gives you a lot of different looks and does a little bit of everything. I think he's got better players around him this week with a certain group of tight ends and wide receivers back.”
Bielema said that Alex Collins had the flu last week and the Razorbacks weren't sure they would have him against Rutgers. This week, Bielema said everyone has been healthy and thus the practices have been a lot better. Both Bielema and his coordinators felt Tuesday's practice was the best Tuesday practice of the season.
Sophomore Otha Peters has also returned from a broken arm. He played a lot particularly in the second half against Rutgers and graded out extremely well. Peters is battling senior Austin Jones for the starting spot at the Mike linebacker.
“He may not start, but I think he will play a lot,” Bielema said of Peters. “A lot more than he did last week.
“He played the second half last week getting the feel for it. He was another guy last week that was just beginning to get into the swing of things and getting back out there. He did a really good job of taking advantage of it.”
Dan Skipper blocked a field goal last week in the Rutgers game and could be in line for more action this week.
“The two young guys have been playing well for us,” Bielema said. “You definitely like the growth they are having and see where that can go.
“Last week, (David) Hurd and (Grady) Ollison were a little bit limited in practice so we repped those young guys even a little bit more. It's easy to see they love playing the game. I go back to Dan Skipper when he blocked that field goal, he and Denver double-teamed that guard and they were about as excited as anybody I've ever seen. Take that energy and put it on the field and a lot of times that can help you out. We're not afraid to put those guys in there.”
Rain is in the forecast for Saturday night. Bielema addressed that on Thursday.
“Rain, rain and rain,” Bielema said. “You've got to play the elements for whatever they are. Going back to our fall camp there was days there was moisture in our fall camp.
“Same thing last Tuesday when we were getting ready for Rutgers it appeared there was a chance for rain and we had almost half of our periods be wet ball. Obviously, it was dry and sunny and all that goes into it. This week, on Wednesday we went almost the same amount of periods wet ball and we'll do it again tomorrow with our specialists and prepare that way. It is what it is and what Mother Nature works up for us, but if you're asking for my preference I would probably opt for a little moisture.”
Bielema said he views the away games as business trips and thus the reason for a dress code of sorts.
“If we have a more than an hour and 15 minute plane ride we will always dress them in sweats on the way there,” Bielema said. “Everyday when we go from the hotel to the stadium we're in shirt and tie.
“On the way home they determine their dress by the way they play. If they win they are allowed to wear sweats home, if not then everybody is in coat and tie.”