FAYETTEVILLE – Though last playing Oct. 10 and exiting early with an injury during the controversial 30-28 loss at Auburn, Arkansas cornerback Montaric Brown shouldn’t be rusty returning for the Razorbacks’ Saturday night SEC West game at Texas A&M.
Arkansas, 2-2, and the nationally No. 8 Aggies, 3-1, kick off at 6:30 p.m Saturday on the SEC Network at A&M’s Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.
The Razorbacks had an open date for Brown to heal after missing the 33-21 victory over Ole Miss on Oct. 17 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium but apparently Brown did more than was realized during the closed practices that Ole Miss game week.
“To be honest with you, he practiced the week of Ole Miss,,” Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said during his Thursday afternoon Zoom presser. “He practiced non-contact, but he practiced then didn’t get cleared (to play against Ole Miss). And then last week he practiced. Then he finally got cleared as of Sunday. So I don’t look at it too much he has been out too long because he’s had 11 practices since he hasn’t played. I think he’ll be ready to go.”
Hudson Clark, the redshirt freshman cornerback replacing Brown when Brown was injured against Auburn and then gaining national prominence snaring three interceptions against Ole Miss starting in Brown’s place, will start together for the first time Saturday night.
Swapping sides will be no problem for Brown and Clark, Pittman said.
“It’s all about cross-training,” Pittman said regarding how defensive coordinator/safeties coach Barry Odom and cornerbacks coach Sam Carter prepare the defensive backs. “I wouldn’t be shocked if all of them hadn’t played every position up there in the secondary. We feel very comfortable with those guys playing either side on corners and nickel, as far as that goes. Nickel and safety. The way that we practiced early helped us with that, and we have full confidence that they can do that. But more importantly they have confidence they can do it. I think we’re ready to go as far as that goes. They can play either side.”
Senior defensive end Dorian Gerald, out since injuring his foot during the 37-10 season opening loss to Georgia, and more likely junior weakside linebacker Bumper Pool, out since injured against Auburn, could be active against Texas A&M.
“Dorian looked a little bit better yesterday,” Pittman said. “We’re going to take him on the trip, then we’ll find out a little more how he is after practice today and then we’ll find out how he is in pregame and see if he can go or not.”
Pool, SEC and national Player of the Week recognition for his 20 tackles during the 21-14 victory Oct. 3 at Mississippi State, has practiced this week and appears likely to be available.
The Razorbacks held three noncontact practices during their bye week but “amped it up” Pittman said in this week’s Tuesday and Wednesday practices then tapered with Thursday’s lighter practice.
“We know we’re going to be in a physical game,” Pittman said hitting full pads Tuesday and Wednesday. “We went good on good (first offense vs. first defense) several times this week for the physicality of what we know we’re going to get Saturday night.
Last week was kind of our week to heal up. We have been smart, obviously, with Dorian and Bumper as far as that part of it goes. But the rest of the team, we banged heads pretty good this week.”
For the first three games Pittman and special teams coordinator Scott Fountain variously employed George Caratan, Sam Loy and Reid Bauer as punters.
However against Ole Miss third-year sophomore Bauer punted all seven times for a 46.9 yard average including two inside the 20 and two for touchbacks.
So is Bauer, Arkansas’ regular punter in 2018 but redshirted last year when former Vanderbilt punter Loy did most of the punting, now Arkansas’ regular every-situation punter?
“I don’t think Reid is our every-situation punter,” Pittman replied. “But he certainly has earned the right to punt for us, I know that. He’s done a nice job.”
While of course not interested in hiring bank robbers, Pittman does seek a few good hold-up men.
Hold-up men for Arkansas’ punt return team.
“We have to be a better hold-up team on punt return,” Pittman said. “Obviously getting Treylon Burks (Arkansas’ top punt returner used just at receiver since impaired by injury) back will help us in the punt return game as well. But we have to do a better job holding up.”
And protecting the punter, performed cleanly against Ole Miss but not earlier this season including a Caratan punt that Auburn not only blocked but recovered for a touchdown.
“Obviously the punt team has been a concern all year,” Pittman said. “And it’s been a concern for us all week, trying to make sure we get off the line of scrimmage, get it covered, and certainly try to be ready for any block looks that A&M may have had in the past.”