Arkansas Spring Football Preview Series – Part
BY ANDRES FOCIL
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas football fans will notice some differences on the defensive side of the ball in 2005. New defensive coordinator Reggie Herring is already busy installing his new 4-3 defensive scheme. Throughout the week, Hogwired.com will feature a five-part series previewing the Razorbacks position-by-position. In the fourth installment of the series, Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt previews the Hogs’ defensive linemen and linebackers.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Arkansas will sport a new look defensively when the Razorbacks take to the practice field this spring. Herring’s arrival and the transition to a base 4-3 scheme will have several Hogs trying their hand at new positions.
Both starting defensive ends from 2004 are no longer in the mix at that position. Jeb Huckeba is pursuing a professional football career after exhausting his collegiate eligibility while sophomore Marcus Harrison has been moved to defensive tackle.
Junior Desmond Sims and redshirt freshman Michael Tate enter spring practice as the top two candidates for playing time at left end. Sims has been a regular for the Hogs in previous campaigns, but spent most of that time at outside linebacker. Last season, he racked up 37 tackles including three tackles for loss (-10). Tate improved his stock in the weight room during his redshirt season and will battle for the starting nod. Senior Darren Rogers has been a mainstay on the UA special teams in previous seasons and will make the switch from outside linebacker this spring as well.
Sophomore Jamaal Anderson earned valuable experience behind Huckeba at right end last season. He tallied 18 tackles and blocked a punt in his true freshman campaign. Redshirt freshman Zach Snider will also line up at right end this spring. Snider worked at linebacker last season, but did garner some experience at defensive end in his prep career.
“Jamaal Anderson and Michael Tate are two guys that are going to get a lot of looks,” Nutt says. “They have had a very good winter and off-season. It is time for them to continue to step up. Jamaal (Anderson) played a lot of valuable plays last year where Michael Tate was redshirted. Then we have guys like Zach Snider, Darren Rogers and Desmond Sims. It is going to be interesting to see how they adjust to the position switch.”
Injuries may not allow Herring to get a true picture of the Razorbacks’ defensive tackle situation. Juniors Jeremy Harrell and Keith Jackson will likely miss at least some portions of the spring work while recovering from shoulder and knee surgeries, respectively.
Redshirt freshman Ernest Mitchell and sophomore Fred Bledsoe top the pre-spring depth chart at left tackle. With the presence of senior Arrion Dixon last season, the Razorbacks were afforded the luxury of redshirting Mitchell for his true freshman campaign. Early indications are that the extra time in the weight room will pay dividends in 2005. Bledsoe worked his way into the Hogs’ defensive line rotation as a true freshman, earning 10 tackles.
Harrison burst onto the scene as Arkansas’ starting defensive end on opening day. He became the first UA true freshman defensive player to start his first game since Greg Lasker in 1982. This spring, he finds himself atop the depth chart at right tackle. The Razorbacks’ defensive coaching staff hopes that Harrison can utilize his quickness to gain an edge in the trenches. Jackson is on the mend and may be healthy enough to participate in some meaningful spring drills. He tallied 26 stops last season, including 4.5 tackles for loss (-23).
“Jeremy Harrell and Keith Jackson you don’t know how much they will get this spring because of injuries and surgeries,” Nutt says. “The guys that will be working there, Marcus Harrison, Fred Bledsoe and Ernest Mitchell, those guys have been very good and very consistent. Ernest (Mitchell) redshirted last year. I really look for Ernest to push those guys. He is one of the strongest guys on our football team. I think for Freddie Bledsoe the sky is the limit. He can get so much better once he gets in top shape.”
LINEBACKERS: Transition will also be the theme with the Razorback linebackers. Arkansas has returned to a traditional three linebacker set with the will, mike and sam positions. Sophomore D’Nerian Wrighter, redshirt freshman Donovan Johnson and senior Clarke Moore are slated to take on will linebacker responsibilities.
Wrighter played sparingly at the Hogs’ wolf position last season but likely will see more opportunity in 2005. Johnson, the cousin of former Razorback first team All-SEC linebacker Quinton Caver, is continuing to make strides. Moore has the most experience of the trio, but will be slowed in the spring after knee surgery.
“All of the linebackers may move around,” Nutt says. “They are going to play themselves around on that deal. Reggie Herring is going to put the best three out there. I’m excited about the move for D’Nerian Wrighter. I think he has some great potential at that spot. We will just have to wait and see.”
Senior Pierre Brown will attempt to follow up on his breakout junior campaign lining up at mike linebacker. Brown finished second on the squad with 60 tackles and six tackles for loss (-17) in 2004. Seniors Sam Olajabutu and Michael Robinson also provide some additional experience in the middle of the UA defense. Olajabutu started the final eight games last season at the position and will battle Brown for the starting nod before all is said and done. He ranked fifth on the team with 52 tackles last season. Robinson never got on track last year following early season health issues, but appears healthy and ready to go for the spring.
Redshirt freshman Desmond Williams spent his first season with Arkansas working at free safety. He enters the spring with a leg up in the competition for the starting spot at sam linebacker. Sophomore Weston Dacus logged some time on defense last season and will challenge for playing time. Matt Stoltz arrived in Fayetteville this spring after redshirting at LSU last fall. The transfer, originally from Little Rock, Ark., will also make a bid for snaps.
“Pierre Brown made some plays for us last year,” Nutt says. “He has come on as a good leader for us. We are excited for him to keep it going and take it to another level. Desmond Williams is one of our most athletic linebackers that had a great fourth quarter (conditioning drills). We are looking for some good things from him.”
ON FRIDAY, HOGWIRED.COM WILL CONCLUDE ITS SPRING PRACTICE PREVIEW WITH A LOOK AT THE UA SECONDARY AND SPECIAL TEAMS.
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