Defensive coordinator Robb Smith’s current boss is Arkansas coach Bret Bielema.
But the first-year assistant’s previous boss was in town Tuesday.
Smith said former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano observed Arkansas’ practice a day before his guest speaking appearance with the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club. Smith worked as a defensive coach on Schiano’s staff at Rutgers from 2009-11 and was with him in the NFL last season.
“He’s bouncing around here,” Smith said. “He’s a football junkie. It’s great to have him around us a little bit and just get an extra set of eyes on things is always good.”
It’s not the first time someone with ties to Smith has visited the Razorbacks since his arrival last winter. Former NFL head coach Dave Wannstadt — who also worked on Schiano’s staff in Tampa in 2013 — spent a few days at Arkansas last spring.
So Smith said it was good to see another familiar face on campus Tuesday. Especially the coach who gave him his first opportunities to work as an assistant in both a Division I program (Rutgers) and in the NFL (Tampa Bay).
“He’s a detail guy,” Smith said about his former boss. “That’s a lot of the philosophy that I formed though the year with how to be precise and how to be detailed have certainly come from being on his staff and working for him.”
2. Ellis Update
Arkansas middle linebacker Brooks Ellis didn’t participate in last Saturday’s scrimmage because of an injury to his kneecap. But linebackers coach Randy Shannon said Ellis was able to participate in some individual drills Tuesday and is confident the sophomore will be ready for the season opener at Auburn.
“Like anything, you come back and you give half of practice or a quarter of a practice, parts of drills, some contact, and then you back him off,” Shannon said. “It’s like anything. You come back from being sore. You don’t want to just jump into it, but he moved around well in (individual drills) and did some good things in some drills we worked on. He should be fine and ready to go a couple of days from now.”
Junior college transfer Josh Williams has filled in for Ellis with the first-team defense the past several practices. Shannon said Williams made the most of his opportunity to work with the starters during last week’s scrimmage.
“Josh was unbelievable,” Shannon said. “He was fitting the run game, his passing game was unbelievable and he keeps progressing. Give somebody a chance to play, and he’s capitalizing on that and doing a lot of good things. I’m happy to see that, because like anything, the more depth you have the more successful you’ll be.”
Smith said Arkansas has a saying for the defense: Catch the ones they throw you.
Freshman safety Josh Liddell had some trouble in Arkansas’ scrimmage last Saturday. Liddell was in perfect position to intercept two passes from quarterback Austin Allen in a three-play stretch, but dropped both of them.
So Smith said CTOTTY has been a theme of the week.
“We’re getting around balls,” Smith said. “I like our aggressive attitude on the back end. Now we’ve got to finish some of those plays and they could be big things.”
The drops didn’t dampen Arkansas’ thoughts on Liddell. Safety Alen Turner said the good news is the newcomer made two great breaks on the ball.
“Only thing he’s got to do is just keep his eye on the ball and just catch it and it’s pick six from there,” Turner said. “I feel like Liddell will be a big help for the team and also in the future he’s going to be a real good player.”
4. Extra Points
• Smith said Arkansas is in the early stages of its preparation for Auburn. “We’re just defending things conceptually that we can see from them or from anyone else throughout the year,” Smith said. “So we’re starting. They’re obviously different from our offense so we’ve got to incorporate those concepts. I like where our guys are right now. The closer we get to game time the more plan that’ll be in.”
• DE Deatrich Wise remains sidelined by a knee injury, according to defensive line coach Rory Segrest. DE JaMichael Winston continues working with the first-team defense in Wise’s place. “We’ll just play it by ear and see how it develops,” Segrest said about Wise’s status. “If not, JaMichael will be there and ready to go.”
• Smith said CB Tevin Mitchel has been involved in contact work since being cleared to return from offseason shoulder injury. Mitchel didn’t scrimmage Saturday, but Smith said the Razorbacks are “trying to be smart with him. We’re going to need all our horses for the opener. It’s important for us to have him for the opener.”