FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas linebacker Alonzo Highsmith missed the entire spring after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in the weight room.
He couldn’t stand being away from the field, especially after being regarded as one of Arkansas’ top returning defensive players. He was eager to prove it in preseason practice, too.
But Highsmith is spending some more time on the sidelines during the first week of preseason camp.
Highsmith did not practice with the Razorbacks on Sunday morning after suffering a hamstring injury a day earlier. Highsmith was injured during the final portion of Saturday’s practice.
The senior’s leg problem does not appear to be serious, although it’s not clear exactly how much practice time Highsmith will miss. Coach John L. Smith described the injury as a “tweaked” hamstring after Sunday’s practice, which could keep Highsmith sidelined for “a day or so.”
Senior Terrell Williams logged most of the first-team work in Highsmith’s place Sunday. Freshman Otha Peters also earned some more repetitions.
“It’s good for those other guys to step up and take those reps,” Smith said of his replacements.
Arkansas held its first full-squad workout of the preseason without Highsmith, who ranked third on the team in tackles last season and is a preseason candidate for the Butkus Award. It was the first time Arkansas’ signees got to work alongside the veterans after three days of divided practices.
Smith said it was an eye-opening experience for the young group on the eve of Arkansas’ first practice in full pads.
“They’re trying,” Smith said. “That’s why we wanted to get them in (Sunday) prior to pads. Get them in there in the shell and introduce them a little bit to the speed of it. It’s going to take them a day or two, but we’re going to just keep yelling at them, patting them on the tail and getting them in the right direction.”
Freshman receiver Keon Hatcher believes it was valuable work, though, as several newcomers try to crack the depth chart for 2012. He said there is an obvious difference in speed, which will take some getting used to.
“It was way faster (Sunday),” Hatcher said. “I mean, this is the SEC. All the older guys, we freshmen, we’re coming from high school and all that. We’re playing fast, but when you see that it’s like man, they’re gone.”
Hatcher and the new players now get a chance to show their maturity, physically, when Arkansas opens contact drills tonight. Arkansas needs help from its signing class — particularly for depth reasons — at positions like wide receiver, linebacker and safety. Smith has been high on Arkansas’ new crop of defensive ends, too, but said the Razorbacks would like to bring them along slowly if possible.
Defensive end Deatrich Wise said he’ll be fine if he doesn’t see the field this season. But he’s also confident he will be ready to play if asked.
“I feel like I mix in with them pretty good,” said Wise “If I redshirt, that’s not a bad thing. I feel like I can learn from what they teach me in the next year, and I’ll get better. “If I play this year, then I’ll feel I’m up to speed with the whole team.”
Arkansas’ first full pads practice of the preseason is tonight on the intramural fields. Does it mean running back Knile Davis will absorb his first blow since breaking his ankle last August? Smith left the question unanswered Sunday.
“We’re still waiting on Knile,” Smith said. “He looks awful good, though. He looks awful fast.”
Davis has said numerous times he is ready for contact after working his way back from the injury. Arkansas has said Davis will be involved in contact drills this preseason, but also plan to take it easy with him as they prepare for 2012.
Wise was asked what he thought of Smith’s assessment of the defensive line. After saying he didn’t know about it, Wise was informed the Arkansas coach said the four-man signing class at defensive end was a “pretty” group because of its length and athleticism.
“It’s a good thing and a bad thing,” Wise said. “It has ups and downs. Off the field is good, but on the field you don’t want to be ‘pretty.’”
Starting safety Eric Bennett continued to be limited because of a hamstring injury. Redshirt freshman Rohan Gaines earned much of the work in his place during Sunday’s practice. … Receiver Demetrius Wilson made an impressive diving catch on a deep ball between two defenders during 11-on-11 drills Sunday. The junior college transfer is expected to contribute immediately at receiver. … Tight end Brett Weir did not practice Sunday after dealing with what apparently were heat-related issues during Saturday’s practice.