Arkansas sophomore cornerback Tevin Mitchel hasn’t played in more than a month, but it sounds like there’s a fairly good chance he’ll start Saturday night when the Razorbacks host Kentucky.
Sophomore cornerback Tevin Mitchel (left) hasn't played in a game since Week 2.
Mitchel has been out since the Sept. 8 game vs. Louisiana-Monroe, when he suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit, was taken to the hospital, and coincidentally had his gall bladder removed soon after that.
“If he’s ready to go, he will start,” Coach John L. Smith said Thursday.
Expect Mitchel to play anywhere from 30-40 snaps, Smith said, but maybe even more than that.
“Hopefully if our defense can play real well, you could give him the whole game,” Smith said. “But again, that’s probably not going to happen. Probably 40 plays, 30-40, somewhere in there, somewhere in the vicinity of half a game. And if things are going good, he might take more than that. It’s kind of up to him. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Mitchel would start opposite true freshman cornerback Will Hines, according to Smith.
Smith said he doesn’t expect conditioning to be a problem for Mitchel, calling him “a thoroughbred” who “can run all day.”
“I think the thing that will be more of a problem for him, just get in there and get him some hits and getting back up and saying, ‘Yeah, I’m OK.’ That’s what I’m worrying about more than his game shape and his ability to run and cover and do all those things. Cause he can do that.”
Mitchel has had contact this week in practice, or at least as much contact as the Razorbacks do this time of year. And Smith said he’s “showing a willingness to want to hit. So it doesn’t look like it’s a problem.”
The Hogs' coaches have been asking senior linebacker Terrell Williams to step up and be more of a leader. "Get the guy next to you lined up," Coach John L. Smith says. "Help him out. Encourage him. So that has to take place."
“And expect those other guys to play a bunch too, and expect (senior Kaelon) Kelleybrew to play a bunch too,” Smith said. “Kelleybrew’s a guy we’ve been using in the middle there when we do nickel and dime work. So he’s kind of backing up Ross (Rasner) at that Star position. So he can play that as well. All of them are going to have to play.”
Smith said he’s seen a lot of growth in the secondary the past couple of weeks, and “I guess that’s where you see it the most in young guys that are making huge strides getting better.”
An improving secondary helps ease the pain of losing the two players who have started at middle linebacker this season – seniors Alonzo Highsmith and Tenarius Wright, both of whom have been ruled out the remainder of the year because of injuries.
“If we can do some things there, make sure we’ve got some guys covered, then we can get after them a little bit more up front,” Smith said.
And the performance of the defensive line is helping out the secondary.
Smith said it was key for the defensive linemen and linebackers to “take the pressure off those guys back there by making sure they can’t run the football to begin with, and then when they do have to throw it, let’s get after them. We’re appealing to those (players up front) to do what they did last week.”
Other injury updates
Coaches have been up front all week about the chances of senior tight end Chris Gragg (deep bruise) seeing game action vs. Kentucky, saying it was very doubtful. On Thursday, Smith said Gragg will definitely not play against the Wildcats.
The Hogs expect Gragg to play in the following game, which is against Ole Miss on Oct. 27 in Little Rock. Gragg was injured in the first half of the Rutgers game on Sept. 22 and hasn't seen game action since.
“He’s come out, he’s run. He’s done a lot of things. He just doesn’t have it yet,” Smith said. “So he’s a ways away.”
Senior backup running back/receiver Ronnie Wingo (shoulder) is possible for the Kentucky game.
What’s the week been like?
Smith said Tuesday’s practice was one of the best Tuesdays the Razorbacks have had since they started fall camp in early August.
“And then Wednesday we turned around, because our last Wednesday wasn’t very good, it was a great Wednesday for us. Today was a good day. Good, sharp, high energy," Smith said.
“I think we’re playing with emotion, we’re practicing with emotion. We’re flying around and energy is good there. Now, again, just take it to the field and see if we can do it again and get in front of our hometown crowd would be nice. We’re looking forward to that.”