1. Which Freshmen Are Ready?

Arkansas moved one step closer to game week Thursday, finishing off its final practice in preparation for tonight’s mock game in Razorback Stadium.

It means the Razorbacks also are a step closer to making decisions on which freshmen will play this season. Arkansas coach John L. Smith was asked how many he thought could play this season and listed 13 after Thursday’s practice.

The group includes linebackers Otha Peters and AJ Turner, receivers Mekale McKay, Keon Hatcher and D’Arthur Cowan, running backs Nate Holmes and Jonathan Williams, defensive ends JaMichael Winston, Deatrich Wise and Brandon Lewis, cornerback Will Hines, tight end Demetrius Dean and safety Defonta Lowe.

“This is not etched in stone,” Smith said.

Arkansas needs the most help at receiver, where Cobi Hamilton leads a group or relatively inexperienced wideouts, and at linebacker.

Peters spent much of the preseason working with the first-team defense because of injuries to starters Alonzo Highsmith and Tenarius Wright. McKay and Hatcher have been productive in most of Arkansas’ preseason scrimmage sessions.

Arkansas also plans to prepare two of its four freshmen defensive ends for playing time. But Smith said it doesn’t mean they will get on the field with five other defensive ends available for playing time this season.

“Even if we don’t use them, what might work for depth is they might travel and be there if you need them if somebody gets hurt but yet still try to salvage the (redshirt) year,” Smith said. “It may come down to the middle of the year that somebody goes down and they have to go. So that’s a possibility.”

2. Rewarding Hustle

McKay made a big play during last week’s Fan Day scrimmage, stripping the ball out of safety Jerry Mitchell’s hands after an interception. The heads-up play returned the ball to the offense, so offensive coordinator Paul Petrino decided to reward McKay for his hustle by calling a pass play.

McKay responded with a 46-yard reception, which was his second of the scrimmage.

“He was being aggressive. He was going hard,” Petrino said Tuesday. “Because of that he made that play and the next play I threw to him deep to reward him and he got a good play. I was really happy with him that day.”

McKay caught one other pass – a 30-yard touchdown – during the scrimmage.

“That kind of goes back to you tell those guys all the time, ‘If I’m playing hard with good effort on every play, good things happen. If you’re not, then they don’t,’” Petrino said. “I think that was just a matter of he was playing hard all scrimmage.”

3. Waiting Patiently

Arkansas is closing in on its opener against Jacksonville State. Quarterback Tyler Wilson said it’s especially clear with NFL preseason games now on television.

“When you watch some of this NFL preseason stuff you start to go, ‘All right, it’s football season,’” Wilson said. “I’ve talked to some ex (Arkansas) guys and how they’re prepping for games. And you feel like it’s almost there. So I’m excited.”

4. Mock Game Plan

Smith said Arkansas’ mock game — which is closed to the public — should last no longer than 40 plays. The Razorbacks want the scrimmage to resemble a game.

“Even though we will card it, and we will script it, we want the twos and threes going live,” Smith said. “They’re tackling those guys, and vice versa. We want that two and three offense imitating, going full speed. So we want it as close to a game as we can make it. And in the kicking game as well.”

— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau