Arkansas solidifies lineup spots as Nutt points team toward Tulsa

Updated: August 26, 2003, 4:41 PM ET

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Jacob Skinner has accomplished something not a lot of freshmen have done under Arkansas coach Houston Nutt -- earn a starting role for his first collegiate game.

Skinner has beat out senior Brennan O'Donohoe in the punting battle.

"Right now, unless something crazy happens, he's inched ahead of Brennan," said Nutt, who could only think of a couple of receivers who may have been in the rotation in their first game at Arkansas. "He has a tremendous leg and power. He's getting the ball off quicker."

Skinner, who also has showed better hang time on his punts, came to Arkansas after averaging 40 yards per punt for Texarkana, Texas, during a Class 4A state championship season. He averaged 43.8 yards per punt as a junior and he was all-state each season.

In 2002, O'Donohoe lost his job as place kicker to David Carlton in the six-overtime loss to Tennessee, when he missed three of six kicks, including a potential game-winner in the third overtime.

Arkansas took Monday off, which is what it will do during the season, and Nutt said he would have one more day of preseason camp Tuesday before working in earnest Wednesday for its season opener Sept. 6 against Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane starts its season this Saturday at Minnesota.

Aside from Skinner taking control of the punting duties, other positions have started firming up, too.

Tony Bua has solidified his position as the starting free safety to replace Ken Hamlin, who passed on his senior season to be a second-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks.

Bua made 240 tackles in the past two seasons as a starting outside linebacker, so Nutt is confident Bua can continue to be a run stopper. The senior from River Ridge, La., has shown he can handle pass defense responsibilities, too.

"He's intelligent and he's been very disciplined," Nutt said. "He's such a hitter, he's got a little bit of Hamlin in him. What I mean by that is, he wants to make every tackle and you can't do that at free safety. You have to play center field, get us lined up and, when it's time to be aggressive, be the Tony that we know."

Jimarr Gallon split time with Bua last year and was ready to take over at outside linebacker, but he has broken bones in his left ring finger so he's doubtful for the Tulsa game.

"We miss his leadership, but hopefully we'll get him back before too long," Nutt said.

Nutt said Jimmy Beasley might move from his safety spot, but he added that redshirt freshman Desmond Sims has proven that he's ready to play outside linebacker.

Sims came to Arkansas at 6-2, 190 pounds and, during the past off-season, grew to 217 pounds.

"We trust him right now and he's had a great camp," Nutt said. "He came in with that beautiful frame, but he had gone from football to basketball to track in high school. Here, it was the first time he was truly concentrated on the off-season program and you could just see him growing each weekend when I would come in from recruiting visits."

Sims was all-state on offense and defense at New Madrid County Central High School in Missouri. He made 17{ sacks and had six interceptions as a senior.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index