FAYETTEVILLE--John L. Smith refused to shed any new light on the suspension of senior linebacker Terrell Williams as the Razorbacks took Monday off before continuing to prepare for Saturday's South Carolina game.
"I don't even want to talk about that," Smith groaned as he addressed reporters at his regular Monday afternoon press conference. "I don't even want to talk to him (Williams) right now."
The Hogs interim head coach went on to express his disappointment that a senior like Williams would be so careless with his responsibilites as a team leader. Smith suspended Williams on Sunday following his DUI arrest in the early morning hours following Arkansas 19-15 win over Tulsa.
True freshman Otha Peters will replace Williams becoming the team's fourth player this season to start at inside linebacker. He joins cornerback Will Hines and outside linebacker A. J. Turner as true freshmen starting for Arkansas' defense.
"Otha's going to be fine," Smith said quietly. "He's going to be a good football player down the road. We just have to make sure we keep things simple. Keep him aligned. Others will have to help him."
Smith noted that normally the team's mike linebacker operates as the quarterback of the defense. He said safeties Ross Rasner and Eric Bennett will help out with that role.
Defensive end Chris Smith has seen enough of both Peters and Turner to know that they're not typical freshmen football players. "I'm coming in to watch film last week and A.J.'s already there," Smith remembered. "He's already got a head start. That's one thing you like. They're getting better and better every week."
The two rookies have also managed to impress their teammates on the other side of the ball.
"Going all the way back to August camp you could see they came to get better and came to play," senior quarterback Tyler Wilson recalled. "There's some freshmen that you can just tell. They're laughing and playing. They're (Peters and Turner) serious. They're good football players and they will be down the road. We need 'em to be good football players this week."
As he slowly made his way down the steps to the Miller Room in the Broyles Athletic Center Wilson displayed visible evidence of the pounding he has taken during the 2012 season. Bent forward from the waist Wilson was limping slightly as he took the podium to address the media. The subject of South Carolina's imposing defensive line quickly came up.
"They are seventh in the nation in sacks," Wilson was informed.
"Last week Tulsa was number one in sacks," Wilson sighed, perhaps recalling almost season's worth of teams that have made it their game plan to hit him hard and often.
"My guys (the offensive line) are going to stand up and battle with them," Wilson predicted. "Fight 'em, and I've got to stand in there and do my part."
Wilson had reason to champion the Hogs' offensive line which allowed just one sack against Tulsa dropping the Golden Hurricane from first to third in that category in the latest NCAA stat book.
But preventing quarterback sacks doesn't tell the whole story with regard to the punishment Wilson has been taking this season.
On the first play of the Tulsa game Wilson found Cobi Hamilton on a 14 yard pass, a play that triggered an opening drive touchdown. Wilson, however, never saw Hamilton's catch. He was smacked in the mouth after he released the ball.
"You did notice it was the first play of the game," John L. Smith noted when reporters quizzed him about the way opposing teams appear to be targeting Wilson this season. "We've got to protect him better."
If there is any good news in that regard South Carolina relies less on blitz packages than many of the teams Arkansas has played. The bad news is the Gamecocks don't have to blitz much with players like Jadevon Clowney attacking opposing quarterbacks. The 6'-6," 256 pound defensive end is considered to be one of the best players in the nation.
"Those guys this week, it's not like they're a blitz-o-mania team," Smith explained, "but they're awful good up front. They can get after you."
"I'm going to meet with our guys just like every other week," Wilson countered. "We're gonna talk about it. We're going to know it and they're going to keep me clean this week."
If the offensive line can keep Wilson upright and if the Hogs' defense continues to improve Arkansas might just pull off its biggest win of the season against a top 10 opponent, a win that would keep the team's slim bowl hopes alive.