Arkansas opened its practice doors for the first time Saturday, welcoming the public in to watch its first scrimmage of the preseason. But a handful of the Razorbacks’ key players weren’t on the field for the 107-play scrimmage.
Center Travis Swanson (groin), fullback Kiero Small (foot), safety Rohan Gaines (knee), defensive tackle Bryan Jones (foot) and receiver Keon Hatcher were among the players who watched from the sideline or did not attend. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said none of the injuries are severe and expects all five to return soon.
Arkansas was being cautious in holding Swanson out of the scrimmage after the senior suffered a minor groin injury. Bielema said Swanson practiced earlier Saturday. Luke Charpentier replaced Swanson with the starters in the scrimmage.
“He wanted to go (Saturday),” Bielema said. “I think he wanted to fight me and (offensive line) coach (Sam) Pittman to get out there. So he practiced (Saturday) morning actually. We thought it would be good for us to get some quality reps with our Nos. 2 and 3 centers, so Travis will be back full go on (Monday).”
Bielema said Small, Hunter and Jones also may be ready for Monday’s practice.
Gaines’ knee injury appears to be the most severe of the group. Bielema said the sophomore has “bruising and swelling” in his knee after landing on it this week.
His absence left junior college transfer TQ Coleman working with the starters Saturday, while junior Alan Turner was with the second-team defense.
“Everything’s OK as far as checked out with X-rays and MRIs and all that jazz,” Bielema said about Gaines’ knee injury. “We think he’ll be back with us anywhere from two or three days to a week. Nothing significant, which is a blessing in disguise, for us to get a lot of quality reps with our backup safeties.”
Freshmen will play
Arkansas’ true freshmen haven’t been made available for post-practice interviews during the first week of camp. So it’s been difficult to gauge how the newcomers are handling their first week of college football practices.
But Bielema said six practices have shown the Razorbacks several will play in 2013.
In fact, Bielema estimated that as many as 10 freshmen will be part of Arkansas’ three-deep depth chart this fall. The list includes: running back Alex Collins, receiver Drew Morgan, tight end Hunter Henry, offensive linemen Dan Skipper, Reeve Koehler and Denver Kirkland, linebacker Brooks Ellis and cornerback D.J. Dean.
He also said quarterbacks Austin Allen and Damon Mitchell are possibilities depending on how the depth chart shakes out this preseason.
Bielema said he has been particularly impressed with Henry, who caught four passes for 35 yards in Saturday’s scrimmage.
“I mean he’s a guy that has to be in our game plan,” Bielema said. “Extremely gifted and the best thing about Hunter Henry is it’s only beginning to scratch the surface. Just an incredibly intelligent young man who has the sky in front of him.”
Sophomore Mekale McKay — who has not been with the team this week because he was looking into transfer options — has been released from his scholarship.
Bielema confirmed McKay will not return to the Razorbacks and said the receiver has picked out a school to transfer to. But Bielema declined to reveal the destination Saturday, saying it was not in his place to announce McKay’s landing spot.
“I talked to him (Friday) night. We had a great conversation,” Bielema said. “I wished him the best of luck. I think he’s in a good situation for him. I think that makes me very excited.”
McKay could not be reached for comment Saturday night.
Arkansas had at least one personnel surprise late in the scrimmage: Offensive lineman Jeremy Ward lined up at defensive tackle with the third-team defense. Bielema said the Razorbacks like the redshirt freshman on that side of the ball and decided to test him on defense Saturday. … Place kicker Zach Hocker impressed, going 2-for-2 on field goals. It included a 57-yarder. Hocker also wowed the crowd with a booming punt before the scrimmage began. … One other move of note: Sophomore Austin Beck has shifted from tackle to guard. … Bielema said the UA Police Department and Washington County Sherriff’s Office met with the team on Friday night. Bielema said the meeting was to talk about “certain things within the community to be aware of.” … Arkansas is not scheduled to practice Sunday. Instead, the Razorbacks will devote part of their afternoon to Arkansas’ annual media day.