Razorbacks focused Mitchell joins team

FAYETTEVILLE – The Arkansas football team has shown steady improvements during games over the opening month of the 2008 season and the reason is simple, better practices make better players. As the Razorbacks prepare to face Kentucky on Saturday evening at 6 p.m. in Lexington, Ky., Arkansas’ practices continue to improve which has head coach Bobby Petrino excited as he looks ahead.

“We came out and had a good practice,” Petrino said. “I was happy with the way that we practiced. I thought that the defense was very physical, very fast, you could see the focus in what they were trying to do. Offensively, I thought we executed. Casey had a good day throwing the ball and the offensive line really continues to lead the team and provide us with a lot of energy and a lot of emotion throughout practice.”

As the week has progressed, Arkansas has paid particular attention to the Kentucky rushing attack as they prepare for the Wildcats to want to run the ball, similar to what teams like Texas, Alabama and Florida did. Kentucky brings a very good running back to the field in Derrick Locke who leads the Wildcats in rushing with 269 yards from scrimmage.

“Speed, [Locke]’s extremely fast, he’s as fast as they come,” Petrino said. “Obviously we know what he did last year here. The other thing that he brings is that you have to cover him. He had about eight catches last week so they don’t only hand him the ball but they throw it to him out of the backfield. The main thing that we have to do is not let him get started. We need to control the line of scrimmage and not let him pop into the open field.”

The Razorbacks have used several linebackers this season at various positions but after six games feel like they have a good rotation of players to fill that role for the second half of the year.

“I feel like we have our starting linebackers now with Jerry Franklin playing the Will and Wendel [Davis] playing the Mike,” Petrino said. “We’re rotating Freddy [Burton] and some of our regular defense and getting [Jerico Nelson] in there when we go to our nickel package. We have kind of settled into that as our starters and feel real good about that. They’ve really helped with the speed and not only against the run but our ability to cover in the secondary.”

Arkansas defensive lineman Ernest Mitchell returned to practice in a limited role on Wednesday after showing promise during individual workouts the day before.

“Ernest did all individual [yesterday] and today he did a little bit more,” Petrino said. “We’ll have to wait and see how he did on the video but he’s feeling better and moved full speed in the individual drills yesterday. We did get him involved in some of the group and team drills today but haven’t had a chance to watch the video yet and see how he did.

“It’s a great sign [to have him back on the field]. It started the day after surgery when it didn’t swell up on him and he had good flexibility and range of motion. It kind of surprised everybody how well he handled surgery. There’s no doubt that he will be back it’s just whether it’s this week or not.”

The Razorbacks take on the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday evening at 6 p.m. in Lexington, Ky. For more information regarding Razorback football or University of Arkansas athletics please visit ArkansasRazorbacks.com.