FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – With its season opener against Western Illinois three days away, the Arkansas football team continued preparation on the practice fields located just south of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson has seen improvement from his defense in some key areas.
“Out of our first unit, I thought (we tackled better),” Robinson said of last Friday’s team scrimmage. “Still not as well as we need to, but better than we have in the past. We had some assignment errors but they did it full speed.”
Redshirt freshman Jerry Franklin caught the eye of the coaching staff during the scrimmage. Franklin is slotted as the started at the mike linebacker position, but has shown his versatility at other positions, too.
“I thought one thing that did shine was our tackle,” Robinson said. “I thought Jerry Franklin had an exceptional day at tackle.”
The Razorback youth continued to impress with the play of Elton Ford. The Alpharetta, Ga., native is listed as the starting free safety on the depth chart heading into the season opener. Since arriving on campus, Ford has worked his way into contributing for Arkansas.
“Elton Ford is going to be a wonderful football player,” Robinson said. “We are going to have growing pains with him but he sees things, breaks well and he’s starting to play the game pretty good. So he’s another guy that stood out that day.”
The fact still remains that the Razorback defense will be young with the loss of seven starters, including the entire secondary. Robinson said there is some apprehension as the Razorbacks head into their season opener with so much youth on the defensive side of the ball.”
“We don’t have a lot of starters,” Robinson said. “Our experience is up front with our older players, but we have all new starters at our secondary positions and inexperience at the linebacker position. That’s kind of scary going into the first game, so you have to be, not so much scared, but aware of what your opponent can bring to the table. (Western Illinois) is a fine football team we’re playing on Saturday.”
Robinson said while the team has cut back on its defensive playbook at the beginning of the season, it has allowed the Razorbacks to key in on those things they do well. Success will come with the level of execution of the defense.
Arkansas will face a tough challenge right off the bat with Western Illinois’ running back Herb Donaldson. The senior ball carrier rushed for 1,491 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Donaldson totaled seven games of 100 rushing yards or more, including games of 241 and 314 yards on the ground.
“According to all the newspaper clippings, he’s one of the top five at his position,” Robinson said. “That says enough in itself, but when you watch him on film—we sit down there and breakdown plays by personnel—and this basic personnel group we call ‘regular’, you basically recruit that kid or draft that kid off that one clip. The guy is an outstanding football player.”
Arkansas will face Donaldson and Western Illinois, ranked No. 22/25 in the Football Championship Subdivision, at 6 p.m. Saturday at Donald W. Reynolds Razorbacks Stadium. Visit ArkansasRazorbacks.com for more news about Arkansas football.