Arkansas’ second week of preseason camp proved to be a costly one.
Coach Bret Bielema went through a list of significant injuries after Saturday’s scrimmage in Razorback Stadium, which was closed to the public. The most significant is to wide receiver Demetrius Wilson, who is out for the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during practice last week.
But he’s not alone: Backup middle linebacker Otha Peters also will miss approximately six to eight weeks after suffering a broken arm. Senior tight end Austin Tate is out for a “maximum of six weeks” after suffering a shoulder injury.
Tate and Peters already have undergone surgery.
Bielema called it a “blessing” they’ll be able to return.
The same can’t be said for Wilson, who was one of three senior leaders at receiver expecting a big year. The junior college transfer caught 9 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown in 2012, but had become one of the team’s top wideouts since the spring.
Bielema said Wilson will undergo knee surgery Wednesday.
“Demetrius has a redshirt year opportunity in front of him and we’re truly blessed we’ll be able to get him back for another year,” Bielema said.
Bielema said Peters also has a redshirt available if needed, but “we’ll kind of talk through that as it goes.” Robert Atiga and Daunte Carr will compete for the second-team job at middle linebacker behind Austin Jones in Peters’ absence.
Bielema said there’s a chance Tate could return before Southeastern Conference play begins on Sept. 28. Until then, Arkansas will lean on a group that includes Mitchell Loewen, Hunter Henry, Jeremy Sprinkle and Alex Voelzke.
“Austin Tate took a shot to the shoulder,” Bielema said of Tate, who has injured his shoulder before. “Nothing whatsoever to do with the previous shoulder surgery. Same shoulder, but totally different mechanics. They went in there and put in a little plate he should be back at a maximum of six weeks.”
The three join a lengthy list of significant Razorbacks who have missed practice time this preseason because of injuries. Center Travis Swanson (groin), fullback Kiero Small (foot), defensive tackle Byran Jones (foot) and safety Rohan Gaines (knee) were sidelined for Arkansas’ first scrimmage last week.
Bielema said those four have returned to practices this week. However, he said several players still were held out of Saturday’s closed scrimmage.
“We held some guys (Saturday) through the practices just because we wanted to see what some of the backups were going to do to be quite honest and get a measure of where they’re at,” Bielema said. “And just kind of protect our guys to get through to next week.”
2. Receiving Opportunities
Wilson isn’t the only returning receiver who has missed practice time this week, according to Bielema. Javontee Herndon and Keon Hatcher have missed practice because of minor issues, leaving plenty of depth concerns at wide receiver.
But Bielema said Arkansas’ freshmen receivers — Drew Morgan and Melvinson Hartfield — have taken advantage of the opportunities for extended work.
“A couple of our freshmen have come on like crazy,” Bielema said. “Drew Morgan was probably our leading receiver out there (Saturday). Did a tremendous job of catching the football. And then Melvinson Hartfield had a touchdown catch. Has tremendous speed. Has a lot of ability.”
It didn’t take long for Hartfield to make an impression. He didn’t arrive on campus until earlier this week because he was waiting for clearance from the NCAA.
“He missed quality time, but he’s got fresh legs,” Bielema said. “He’s fast already. We knew that coming in, but he’s got fresh legs and he was making people look silly out there. He’s a very gifted football player.”
3. Buehner To WR
Arkansas’ depth chart at quarterback has been shuffled as well because of the injury situation. Third-string quarterback Brian Buehner has moved to wide receiver to help with depth and Bielema applauded the junior’s willingness to slide over.
“He could have easily just stayed there as probably the No. 3 quarterback and really kind of pushed the envelope and might beat AJ (Derby), but he said to me, ‘Coach, I’ll do anything to help this team win,’” Bielema said. “We threw him in at wideout kind of just to experiment. The first day he didn’t have a drop. He had one out there (Saturday), but he’s been money. He’s a competitor, intelligent.”
Buehner’s move has pushed freshmen quarterbacks Austin Allen and Damon Mitchell up the depth chart behind starter Brandon Allen and backup AJ Derby.
“I would say Austin would be the third quarterback right now if we had to play a game tomorrow,” Bielema said. “Duwop definitely has some skills and abilities that fit well. AJ has done a tremendous job. AJ’s playing, in my opinion, a lot better right now than he did in the spring. So the growth overall, (offensive coordinator Jim) Chaney is doing a tremendous job with those guys.”
4. Thanks Auburn
Bielema said he has spoken with Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton about Tate’s shoulder injury. Horton, who was an assistant at Arkansas and worked with Bielema during the new coach’s transition last winter, tweeted his condolences to Tate before the Razorbacks had made the injury and surgery public Friday night.
“We spoke about 11 (Friday) night or whenever it was,” Bielema said. “I expressed that we would like to handle our injuries in house. I know he’s got a relationship and that’s all great, but I don’t think we’ll have that problem moving forward. We’ll take care of it and appreciate their support and we’ll see them later this year.”
Bielema was asked what Horton’s reaction was to the situation, but declined.
“You can ask Tim,” Bielema said. “It was a very nice conversation.”