Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash is proud of something his first-team defense has accomplished in the Razorbacks’ two preseason scrimmages.
"It was the second scrimmage in a row where our ones didn’t give up a touchdown," Ash said Tuesday. "So we’re pretty positive about that."
But Ash wasn’t ready to declare the Razorbacks ready for the season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette on Aug. 31. Instead, Ash said the Razorbacks still have plenty to accomplish as they continue to inch closer to the 2013 season.
"We’re not a finished product by any means," Ash said. "The biggest thing is lack of consistency. We’ve got to get more consistent. We’ve got to take on blocks more consistent. We’ve got to be able to be in the right spots more consistent. We’ve got to become better communicators. I’ve got a whole checklist of things we can do a lot better if we’re going to have a chance to win games."
Ash said the first-team group started slow, allowing a few decent gains on the ground before settling in and keeping the offense out of the end zone.
"The second scrimmage we didn’t come out with a sense of urgency on the first series," Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith said. "But we picked it up."
So middle linebacker Austin Jones said consistency has been emphasized this week.
"Statistically we did pretty good," Jones said. "The energy needed to be better."
Ash also said depth at cornerback and middle linebacker remain his two "biggest concerns" as the third week of preseason camp continues. Those concerns have shown with the second-team defense, which Ash said "has a long way to go."
Ash said the group struggled with missed tackles and alignments during the scrimmage. The mistakes helped the first-team offense collect big plays when the two went head-to-head. They’re things that must be fixed before the opener.
"We’re nowhere near being ready to play a game," Ash said. "We’ve got 12 days to go to continue to try to improve and get closer to that."
Arkansas’ ongoing search to find its best linebacker rotation has continued this week. Nothing has changed with the starting trio of Austin Tate, Braylon Mitchell and Jarrett Lake, but Ash said there has been more shuffling behind them.
Specifically, freshman Brooks Ellis has returned to the second-team middle linebacker spot after spending one week outside. The move was made largely because of Otha Peters’ absence with a broken arm. But Ellis replaces Daunte Carr and Robert Atiga, who were competing for the second-team spot.
"Brooks Ellis is doing a nice job in there," Ash said. "Otha was getting better. I wish he could still be out there with us continuing to get better with the reps. But he’s not, so we’ll deal with what we’ve got and keep moving on."
Carr, who entered the spring as the first-team middle linebacker, has moved outside.
He’s working with the second-team group that includes Ellis and Martrell Spaight.
Arkansas safety Rohan Gaines has returned to practice after missing time with a knee injury. Ash said the sophomore is "knocking off rust" this week.
"He took good notes during the time he was out, but it’s different when you get out on the field," Gaines said. "You’ve got to be able to read your keys, react, and communicate out there quickly and efficiently.
"He’s struggling with that right now getting back out there, but he’ll be fine."
Gaines said he didn’t participate in last Saturday’s scrimmage while he continued to work his way back from the injury. But the sophomore is "feeling great" this week, even though he hasn’t been flawless after missing time.
"I wouldn’t call it rusty. I was anxious," Gaines said. "I was just real anxious to get out there and make plays like I’ve been doing. It kind of messed me up a little bit."
Lewis’ No. 3
Smith and Trey Flowers are Arkansas’ top two defensive ends.
But who is next in line for the Razorbacks?
Redshirt freshman Brandon Lewis apparently has stepped into the role.
"B-Lewis is probably come on to be probably the third end, to be honest with you," Ash said. "He’s done a nice job in camp. Deatrich Wise is still working and probably the fourth guy. But when you talk about Flowers and Smith and Wise and B-Lewis, those are probably the top four."