FAYETTEVILLE – Even before returning main man running back Trelon Smith missed practice time this week, Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said Smith would play little if at all in the Razorbacks’ scrimmage Saturday.
It marks the final full-scale scrimmage of the preseason with just another preseason week remaining before Arkansas’ Sept. 4, 1 p.m. season-opener against the Rice Owls at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Arkansas coaches are especially conscious of even slightly injured sure thing regulars like Smith as the opener approaches. Sp Saturday’s scrimmage creates an ample opportunity for freshman running backs Raheim “Rocket” Sanders of Rockledge, Fla. and AJ Green of Tulsa.
A December high school grad recruited as a wide receiver, Sanders, 6-2, 225 got moved to running back last spring and seized the opportunity among also inexperienced alternatives for No. 2 consideration behind Smith.
Green, the most touted pure running back among Arkansas’ freshman class upon reporting to the UA this summer after graduating Tulsa’s football fabled Union High, has because of injuries only practiced four of Arkansas’ 13 August practices and was withheld from last Saturday’s first full scale preseason scrimmage.
However Green practiced full go Friday and will scrimmage Saturday, offensive coordinator Kendal Briles said after Friday’s practice shortened to refresh the Hogs between Thursday’s hard practice and Saturday’s scrimmage.
“”It’s huge,” Briles said of Saturday’s scrimmage as Green’s first real test. “He’s back healthy. Today was AJ’s fourth practice. He came back rusty yesterday (Thursday). Today (Friday) we were in spiders, so we didn’t have pads. Tomorrow is going to be a big day. We’d like to see what he can do and how he protects the football.”
Green will work behind Sanders and converted sprinter from the track team to running back Josh Oglesby and possibly Smith.
“Trelon will be out there tomorrow but I don’t know how much we’re going to give him,” Briles said. “We’re going to back off on a couple of guys who have had some things nagging on them. Rocket will see a lot of carries. He’s done a really nice job for us.”
Briles explained Sanders’ progress under running backs coach Jimmy Smith.
“Coach Smith has done a great job with him,” Briles said. “He is a 226-pound kid that can really run. When he gets in the open field, he’s a home run back. Very, very tough player. He runs in between the tackles. Arm tackles aren’t necessarily going to bring him down. And he’s done a great job this week with his pass protection.”
Starting third-year sophomore quarterback KJ Jefferson, also media available Friday, was asked about Sanders and Green.
“Raheim is coming along,” Jefferson said. “Trelon Smith helping him is a big deal along with all the running backs keeping him after practice and going over signals and stuff, trying to make sure if he (Trelon) goes down the next one up will be confident and be ready. AJ Green, I’m excited to see what he brings to the table in a full scrimmage.”
To keep their quarterbacks intact, particularly Jefferson as the lone quarterback in camp (two starts in two years) with more than a smattering of game experience, the QBs all practice and scrimmage in don’t hit them caution jerseys.
Obviously, Jefferson, recruited as a running quarterback, won’t don that “don’t hit me” garment against Rice.
Any concerns with ball security absorbing that first real hit in a real game?
It’s a transition and you can’t recreate it,” Briles said. “These kids have been playing football their whole lives, so they understand what’s different when you’re getting hit. It’s all about ball protection.
A lot of times for kids who haven’t been hit and are used to being hit, they want to be hit. They want to have that first tackle. It kind of knocks the rust off them.”
While Jefferson was recruited by the previous Chad Morris regime as a running quarterback, Pittman and Briles are well aware of the lack of experienced depth behind Jefferson.
“I don’t want to say that we’re just going to run him a bunch,” Briles said. “That’s not what we want to do offensively. But things happen pre-snap, post-snap that are going to allow him to carry the football. I like the fact that you got a guy back there that if things do break down, they can create, and those are things that God gave him the ability to do it and he does it.”
Carrying a listed 245 pounds on his 6-3 frame, Jefferson looms larger than many trying to bring him down.
Both Briles and Jefferson say they want the quarterback trimming to 235 though Briles said that’s not a major concern.
“He’s now under 245,” Briles said. “He can run and he can move and he’s got a first step. So I’m not really concerned with it. I don’t care if he’s 285 as long as he’s dropping dimes on people and getting away from pressure.”