Arkansas appears to be looking everywhere for a punt returner.

Arkansas appears to be looking everywhere for a punt returner.


Coach Bret Bielema said Wednesday nine players have auditioned for the position in practice this week, including cornerback D.J. Dean. The Razorbacks opened up the competition after Dean made a poor decision and muffed a punt during the 45-17 win against Alabama-Birmingham last Saturday.


The list of competitors includes some predictable names: Dean, wide receivers Demetrius Wilson, Jared Cornelius, Cody Hollister and Drew Morgan, and cornerback Cornelius Floyd. But there were some unexpected options in the equation, too, in wide receiver Jojo Robinson and holder Matt Emrich.


Bielema said Emrich volunteered and has "looked pretty good" catching punts.


"He was a punt returner in high school," Bielema said of Emrich, who is from El Dorado. "A lot of times those guys who are specialists, they have a lot of time on their hands, so they go in there and catch punts. It’s been my knowledge during my career those guys can actually catch the ball pretty well."


Robinson was considered a candidate for the position before the season began, but has not played this fall after dealing with a few nagging injuries. The Razorbacks are planning to redshirt the Miami native, but Bielema said that decision would be Robinson’s if Arkansas determines he’s the best for the punt return job.


"That’s really in the young man’s hands," Bielema said. "I ask guys the first game of the year if they want to play, and they tell me, ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ The same thing could apply to us now. … It’s really up to the guys to make that decision for themselves."


Bielema said Arkansas planned to have an extensive punt return session during Wednesday’s practice. The coaching staff will evaluate each returner after watching film of the work. Bielema said a decision could be made as early as Thursday night.


CFP talk


Mississippi State is No. 1 in the inaugural College Football Playoff top 25 poll, which was unveiled by CFP chairman and Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long on Tuesday.


MSU coach Dan Mullen said it’s a "great" honor for the university, but his team has something much more important in mind with Arkansas coming to town Saturday.


"Here it is the first poll ever released in the college football playoff and Mississippi State’s No. 1," Mullen said Wednesday. "I think that’s pretty historic and a really neat deal for our fan base and our alumni and our students and the university as a whole. I think that’s pretty special. How it affects our football team in the big picture of things? I don’t think it does any way, shape or form. … It’s not going to help us beat Arkansas on Saturday, so we kind of take it for what it’s worth."


Bielema said he didn’t watch the unveiling of the CFP’s top 25 poll, but later caught a clip of Long and believes his boss did well in the spotlight. Bielema also recognized that four of the top six teams were from the SEC West. But that was it.


"I can’t waste my time worrying about anything we’re not involved in," Bielema said about his program, which is 0-4 in SEC play. "It’s great recognition. It’s a great recruiting tool for the entire conference, but obviously we want to be a part of it."


Injury updates


Arkansas linebacker Brooks Ellis (bruised knee) moved closer toward his return by participating in Tuesday’s practice. The sophomore has missed two straight games.


"He had a great day," Bielema said. "The big thing you always hold your breath on is how are they coming in the day after. He was in for treatment (Wednesday) morning at 6 a.m., bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Actually had no regression whatsoever. I talked to him a little bit earlier just to see where he was at, and he feels good."


Bielema is optimistic Henre’ Toliver will join him after feeling better Tuesday. Toliver missed last week’s game after suffering a bruised back against Georgia.


"We did some things with him," Bielema said. "He didn’t get into live football, but he’s going to make a go of it (Wednesday). Those two guys should be in full swing."


MSU played ‘tight’


Mullen believes his team played "a little tight" at Kentucky. He thinks the fact MSU was playing as the nation’s No. 1 team for the first time had something to do with it.


"I thought we played really well against Kentucky, but I think we played kind of tight, trying not to make mistakes, and not with the energy and the juice that we’ve played with the rest of the year," Mullen said. "That’s kind of been of focus, don’t worry about it, just go out and play every single play as hard as you can. Let’s have fun doing it with the energy and juice we had earlier in the season. If we do that, we’ll put ourselves in a position to be successful."


Mullen hopes the Bulldogs handle it better against Arkansas.


"It’s hard to project how we’ll act on game day, but I think the leadership within the team really understands that now," Mullen said. "After playing a game, they can see how we reacted last week, and I think everyone will handle it a whole lot better."