Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has referred to his linebackers as the “Bad News Bears” because of their anonymity.
But Bielema is eager to see the group introduce itself to Arkansas fans Saturday, when the Razorbacks open the season against Louisiana-Lafayette at 3 p.m.
“Those guys are too young to probably even know what the ‘Bad News Bears’ are,” Bielema said. “But I think that they’ve really molded. … It’s a group that’s kind of triumphed since last spring. They’ve been guys that have gone to work every day.”
Arkansas is scheduled to start the trio of Austin Jones, Braylon Mitchell and Jarrett Lake against Louisiana-Lafayette. All three will make their first career starts.
“If you took a straw poll vote back in January when we got rolling that those would be our three starting linebackers, I don’t know if those would’ve been the guys that surfaced,” Bielema said. “Especially from the guys that played a year ago.
“I’m excited to see them actually get into game action.”
The second-team group is new as well with freshman Brooks Ellis, junior college transfer Martrell Spaight and former safety Daunte Carr. All three should play plenty on what will be a hot day. Temperatures are projected to reach the mid-90s.
Mitchell said it should benefit the linebackers as they unit makes its debut.
“I think it’s going to give guys a lot of rest,” Mitchell said of the rotation. “So that when we’re out there on the field we’re able to fly around, our legs will be fresh and we’ll be able to make some plays and help our defense win.”
Lake said it doesn’t matter who is on the field. The group knows it has plenty to prove since no one in the two-deep has started or played significant snaps.
But the junior is confident the linebackers will produce.
“We feel like we’re going to go out there with a lot of energy and just prove to everybody out there that we can play,” Lake said. “We were brought here to play. So we’re going to go out there and play.”
Bielema was asked how he expected the carries to be divided between running backs Saturday. His hope was that starter Jonathan Williams would have the highest totals in both carries and yards, but couldn’t be definitive.
In fact, he said it was possible someone other than Williams or freshman Alex Collins could lead the way on the ground Saturday.
“Kiero Small might be the guy with the most amount of carries and catches,” Bielema said. “I mean, he’s very gifted with the ball in his hands. I think early on, you’ve got to lean on your great players or the guys you feel can make you great.
“Kiero’s definitely one of those guys.”
Arkansas planned to get plenty of players on the field for the season opener. But Bielema said the extreme heat expected for Saturday’s game may force one change.
“I don’t know if it’s going cause us to play more guys, but it will definitely force us to play more players early, I think,” Bielema said. “We’ll meet (today) as a staff. We kind of put the process in motion on Wednesday as a group, kind of figure out who would want to rotate in on our second series, depending on how the first one goes.”
Bielema said other changes could come on special teams, where several starters are projected to play roles.
“You’ve got guys that you thought maybe could handle being an offensive and defensive starter in addition to playing one or two groups on special teams,” Bielema said. “Maybe a kickoff and a punt team. Maybe that’s not going to be the case if it’s 100-and-something degrees out there.”
Peters returning soon?
Linebacker Otha Peters could be back from a broken arm a little quicker than expected. Bielema said Peters — who was projected to miss 6 to 8 weeks with the injury — could return in a couple of weeks.
Bielema admitted he “might be an optimistic head coach,” though.
“I just see him out there running around,” Bielema said. “They’ve got this new little air cast on him. I saw him doing stadium stairs. Otha, physically, made such a tremendous change in his body. Really looked like a true inside middle linebacker. Excited to get him back out there. I know he’s itching to get back out there as well.”