FAYETTEVILLE — Trey Flowers is uncomfortable calling it star treatment.
He doesn’t want to be set aside from the rest of his teammates, who are working through spring practices as well. But when Arkansas coach Bret Bielema presented Flowers with the opportunity to sit out the Razorbacks’ spring scrimmages, the senior accepted it. So now he’s dealing with the consequences.
“They kind of mess with me a little bit,” Flowers said about his teammates and coaches. “But I just let it roll off.”
Arkansas will be back on the field this morning, holding its second spring scrimmage in Razorback Stadium. Flowers won’t be one of them, though. He’ll be watching.
The Razorbacks have decided to hold Flowers out of the scrimmage largely because they don’t need him to prove anything this spring after starting the past two seasons on Arkansas’ defensive line. The Razorbacks are working to improve their defense under new coordinator Robb Smith, but don’t want to run the risk of losing their most experienced player to injury as they grind through spring drills.
So Flowers practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He takes scrimmages off.
Smith said he and the rest of the defense have no problems with the decision.
“I certainly respect what we’re doing there,” Smith said. “We have lot of confidence in Trey and what that’s able to do is kind of open up some other doors for us to see some other guys. We know what we have in Trey and we want to be smart with him and get him to the starting line. We’ll keep pushing forward with the other guys.”
Flowers considered entering the NFL Draft after his junior season, when he started opposite Chris Smith to give the Razorbacks one of the most productive tandems of defensive ends in the Southeastern Conference. Flowers led Arkansas with 13 1/2 tackles for losses and finished second on the team with 5 sacks.
He eventually chose to return to Arkansas for his senior season after Bielema visited Flowers and his family in Mobile, Ala., over the winter break. It was there that Bielema pitched his plan for Flowers, which included no scrimmages in the spring.
Flowers agreed to it, but admitted last Saturday was unusual as he watched.
“At first I really didn’t know what to do because I felt like I needed to do something,” Flowers said. “But I understand the reasoning behind it. I see the risk behind it. But it’s a chance to give the young guys a chance to display their skills and get reps.”
There were some good performances, too, from a group replacing three starters — Smith, Robert Thomas and Byran Jones — this spring
Deatrich Wise, who played as a reserve last season, filled in for Flowers with the first-team defense and impressed the staff. JaMichael Winston had a strong scrimmage, too, collecting two sacks. The defense had 11 in the scrimmage.
“We were playing pretty fast, pretty physical,” Flowers said. “We’ve still got a couple things to work on as far as the missed assignments. We had a lot of those. But I think guys were going pretty fast, pretty hard and they showed a lot of good effort.”
Flowers wasn’t part of it, but said his spring has been productive as well.
Flowers has said several times he’s not setting goals for 2014 because they also set limitations. Instead, he’s returning to Arkansas determined to help lift a defense out of the doldrums during his final season.
Flowers is working under his fourth defensive coordinator and third defensive line coach at Arkansas. So familiarity with the Razorbacks’ new defensive plan has been the first priority. But Flowers said the transition has been smooth.
Defensive line coach Rory Segrest agreed. He said Flowers’ improvement as a pass rusher is the biggest area of emphasis this spring.
“As I watched film from last year that seemed to be probably the biggest weakness,” Segrest said. “Just his productivity and understanding how to rush the quarterback. So I think he’s really getting a good grasp on that. … Obviously, we’d like to get him out there in those actual scrimmage reps to be able to see it, but he’s a guy with a ton of experience, a lot of reps under his belt. He’s got plenty of time to work.”
Arkansas’ scrimmage will be its ninth practice of the spring. It means there are six remaining, including the Red-White Game on April 26.
Flowers will be on the field for most of them, wrapping up his final spring with the Razorbacks. Arkansas hasn’t decided whether he’ll play in the Red-White Game, though. Either way, Flowers said he’s planning to make the most of the remaining practice work as he prepares to lead Arkansas’ defense into 2014.
“You’ve got a lot of guys looking up to you,” Flowers said about his role as a senior. “You’re expected to be a leader. You’ve got to lead by encouragement. Just seeing which guys can tag along, and bring them along with you. Which guys you’ve got to motivate, which guys you’ve got to push. … We’ve been working all winter and I’ve seen how hard they’ve been working. So I’m very excited to have them.”