2011 Arkansas Preview – Defense
Arkansas DE Jake Bequette
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Arkansas Razorback Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: After finishing last in the SEC in total defense two years in a row, the Hogs found a pass rush, got stronger in the secondary, and the team went from good to BCS-worthy. The pass rush should be great, but improvement will only come with tighter play against the run. The production up front could come with a tremendous rotation of very big, very young tackles with ends Jake Bequette and Tenarius Wright working on the outside. Jerry Franklin leads an active linebacking corps that gets all over the field, but could stand to be stronger against the run, while corner Jerry Mitchell headlines a big secondary with several good options to play around with.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Jerry Franklin
Tackles: Jerry Franklin, 100
Sacks: Jake Bequette, 7
Interceptions: Tramain Thomas, 4
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DT DeQuinta Jones
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Byran Jones
Best pro prospect: Senior DE Jake Bequette
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Franklin, 2) Bequette, 3) DE Tenarius Wright
Strength of the defense: Pass Rush, Depth
Weakness of the defense: Run Defense. Good Passing Teams
State of the Unit: The defensive front was expected to turn things up a few notches with a veteran group returning, and it did by getting into the backfield on a regular basis and helping the D finish ninth in the nation in sacks and 13th in tackles for loss. Run defense wasn't exactly the group's forte, but with a good, strong group returning, and a few beefeaters on the inside, there's room for improvement.
The star of the front four should be Second Team All-SEC pass rusher Jake Bequette, who came up with a team-leading seven sacks along with 8.5 tackles for loss and 32 tackles. The 6-5, 271-pound senior has the size and the frame to be a 3-4 end at the next level, and he has the motor and the closing skills to be used on the outside in a 4-3. Even though he has been a dangerous pass rusher for the last few years, he's still growing into his job and he's still improving against the run.
Operating on the other side will once again be Tenarius Wright, a relatively short, linebacker-sized 6-2, 252-pound pass rusher who came up with six tackles and 36 sacks as a great reserve off the bench. He'll take over for Damario Ambrose, and he should flourish with an even bigger role. A terrific prospect out of high school, he has a great first step and nice range for an end. There's a chance the junior could be a bigger disruptive force than Bequette.
There's tremendous size in the interior, but the bulk has to translate into more production against the run. 6-5, 307-pound junior DeQuinta Jones started eight games last season making 38 tackles, but he didn't do much to get into the backfield and he lost his starting job over the second half of the year. A top prospect who could've gone anywhere, this is the year he needs to play like an anchor
once he gets back healthy after being limited this
spring. While Jones a big, tough defender, even more might be expected from Byran Jones , a 6-2, 312-pound sophomore who got five games of starting time last year and finished with 23 tackles. DeQuinta might be a solid veteran, but Byran has the potential to be an all-star who becomes the star to build around for the next three years.
A pair of good-sized sophomores will serve as the main backups on the outside. 6-6, 261-pound Colton Miles-Nash saw plenty of action as a reserve, making 14 tackles, but his biggest moment came in the Sugar Bowl with a key blocked punt against Ohio State. He hasn't been unleashed as a pass rusher, but he has the athleticism to become a dangerous playmaker. 6-3, 251-pound sophomore Chris Smith saw a little bit of work as a reserve making three tackles in a limited role. He's a speed rusher with tremendous upside and potential. Now he needs to see the field more.
While both the Joneses at defensive tackle might be big, the backups bring even more bulk. Sophomore Robert Thomas is a 6-3, 325-pound JUCO transfer who dominated last year at Coffeyville Community College and has enough athleticism for his size to become a bit of an interior pass rusher. Wanted by Oklahoma, and several other big boys, he has the upside to quickly be special, as does junior Alfred Davis, a 6-1, 326-pound spot-starter who made 24 tackles with a sack. A pure nose tackle, he gets great leverage with his size, and his lack of height is actually a positive at times. He does a good job of getting low.
Watch Out For … Wright. Bequette is the team's best end, but Wright should be a statistical star who'll command more and more attention. The Hogs should have a pair of all-star defensive ends.
Strength: Depth. This hasn't been a problem over the last few years and it should be one of the biggest plusses on defense this season. The tackle rotation should be excellent and there are enough big, quick ends to go around. There's no excuse for everyone not to be fresh.
Weakness: Run defense. There wasn't much any improvement after allowing 153 yards per game in 2009. Last year the Hogs gave up 162 yards per game and 21 touchdowns including eight in the final three games. The pass rush is way too good to be so statistically mediocre.
Outlook: The line looks like it should be a killer, and it will be when it comes to getting into the backfield. There's too much size, too much depth, and too many good tackles to be so average against the run. The line struggled for years, was strong last season, and with a little more work, could be one of the SEC's best this season.
Unit Rating: 8
State of the Unit: A major weakness for years, last year's linebacking corps came together and was active and disruptive, even if it wasn't as physical as it needed to be against the run. The 65 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss from Anthony Leon are gone, but there's enough athleticism and talent across the board to be more than fine.
The leader of the corps, and the defensive front, will once again be Jerry Franklin , a major producer over the last three seasons and the team's leading tackler in each of the last two years. He followed up a 94-tackle 2009 with 100 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and 13 tackles for loss on the way to all-star honors. At 6-1, and 245 pounds, the former safety is extremely quick and very active in the middle and can play on the outside if needed. He could stand to do more against the pass, but he's just fine as is.
Back on the outside is senior Jerico Nelson , a 5-10, 211-pound speedster who's part safety, part linebacker. While he isn't all that big, he packs a good punch finishing second on the team with 87 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 11 tackles for loss. He's solid against the pass and isn't afraid to mix it up a bit when he needs to. While he's undersized, he's always going full-tilt and is always around the ball making things happen.
Taking over Leon's vacant outside position will be Terrell Williams , a strong 6-3, 232-pound junior who has to be on the field in some way. More of a prospect for the middle, he'll have to settle for being outside this year after making 42 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss as a reserve. He got the starting nod against LSU and came through with a nice day making ten tackles with a tackle for loss. A good athlete with the smarts to always be in the right position, he should be a big-time producer now that he'll get more work.
6-3, 225-pound redshirt freshman Braylon Mitchell was a good recruit last year and should be the starter in the middle next season. Very quick and very strong, he'll be excellent against the run when he gets his chance, even if he doesn't have prototype size. Working on the outside will be 6-0, 209-pound junior Ross Rasner , a nice reserve who made 28 tackles with two sacks and six tackles for loss along with his work as a top special teamer. Sophomore Jarrett Lake is a 6-3, 223-pound rising athlete who got a little bit of work in last year making four tackles. He'll be used at times as a pass rusher.
Watch Out For … Williams. As a top backup he finished sixth on the team in tackles. Now that he has the full-time job, he should put up huge numbers and should be an occasional terror into the backfield.
Strength: Quickness. By design, the Hogs have a slew of former defensive backs who bulked up enough to handle the rigors of SEC life. Unlike some teams who do the same thing, Arkansas' linebackers have real, live linebacker size. Being physical shouldn't be an issue.
Weakness: Run defense. Everyone can run and everyone can hit, but there are too many plays being made down the field and not enough big stops at the point of attack. There's too much size and quickness not to be better.
Outlook: The coaching staff has done a great job of bringing in talented players, and now the payoff should start to come with better depth than the linebacking corps has had in a few seasons. Franklin and Williams are stars, Nelson is solid, and there should be a good rotation. However, it's asking a lot to get through a season injury-free like last year. There was only one game without the normal starting lineup.
Unit Rating: 7
State of the Unit: All of a sudden, the Arkansas secondary got really good, really fast. After being bombed on for a few seasons, it all came together last year – with a little help from a killer pass rush – finishing 20th in the nation in pass defense and a respectable 41st in pass efficiency D. Considering that most teams had to bomb away to stay alive, the secondary came through with a strong year.
While there aren't any sure-thing all-stars, safety Tramain Thomas was close last year. The 6-0, 198-pound senior followed up an inconsistent sophomore campaign with 83 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions with four forced fumbles. A guided-missile at times, he's a good hitter who's versatile enough to play anywhere in the secondary. His improvement was one of the keys to the secondary, and he should once again be a big factor against the run.
Taking over for Rudell Crim at the other safety spot will be 5-11, 190-pound sophomore Eric Bennett after making 15 tackles with a fumble recovery in a true freshman season. He has decent size and he can move, and now he should be a top tackler who makes things happen all over the field.
6-1, 214-pound sophomore Jerry Mitchell is a tall corner who spent last year working as a safety and seeing time on special teams. Extremely fast, with high school all-star sprinter's speed, he shouldn't have any problems staying with the faster targets while he has the size to bully the bigger ones. He's an interesting blend of skills who could quickly develop into a No. 1 corner.
Working on the other side will be senior Isaac Madison, a 5-11, 185-pound veteran who started most of last season making 30 tackles with five broken up passes a few years removed from a torn ACL. While he's big and knows what he's doing, he'll be in a fight for starting time after not doing enough when the ball was in the air. That means junior Darius Winston will get every chance at the job. A mega-recruit in 2009, the 6-0, 185-pounder made 23 tackles with a pick. The prep hype was so immense that anything other than all-star honors at some point in his career will be a major disappointment. He has those kinds of skills.
Senior Elton Ford came into last season as a possible starter, but he was mostly a top backup making 39 tackles with three broken up passes at safety. At 6-0 and 210 pounds he has decent size and he's a great tackler, but he'll likely be a part of the rotation again rather than a main option. That he's playing at all is a plus after getting knocked out of his freshman year with a scary neck injury.
Originally a wide receiver, 5-9, 211-pound senior De'Anthony Curtis will close out his career as a corner after making two catches last year and six stops on special teams. He's more of a nickel or dime defender, but he's quick and he's willing. While Curtis is looking to make a late impact, 6-3, 198-pound sophomore safety Darrell Smith is trying to break into the safety rotation after making three tackles as a key special teamer. He's one of the teams' biggest safeties and has excellent upside with great measurables.
Watch Out For … A battle for the corner job on the other side of Mitchell. Madison and Winston can each get the job done, and they'll be pushing each other for time all season long.
Strength: Size. This is a tall, big secondary with nice-sized corners that aren't going to get pushed around and strong safeties who provide a pop. Everyone can tackle.
Weakness: Consistency. The overall stats were nice, but they were helped by playing teams like ULM and Vanderbilt who didn't throw the ball a lick. Anyone who tried to throw the ball on a regular basis didn't have much of a problem.
Outlook: The secondary might not be air-tight, and it might give up a few big plays here and there to the better passers, but it'll be good enough to get by. The corners will manhandle most receivers, while the safeties will do a good job of beating them up. This is a good group that might be the most productive the program has had in a long time.
Unit Rating: 7
State of the Unit: Sophomore Zach Hocker took on the starting kicker job from Alex Tejada and showed why the move had to be made nailing 16-of-19 field goals including 12 of his last 14. He's accurate and he showed off decent range nailing a few 48-yarders early on along with a 46 shot against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. He doesn't have 50+ range, but he's good enough from 45 and in to be counted on at any time.
The punting game showed tremendous improvement from a rocky 2009 finishing 40th in the nation and 5th in the conference netting 37.46 yards per try. Junior Dylan Breeding averaged 42.5 yards per kick and put18 inside the 20 while forcing 18 fair catches. With a big leg and good accuracy, he should be in the hunt for all-star honors.
After finishing fourth in the nation in punt returns, the Hogs should be strong again with the return of WR Joe Adams , who averaged 15.6 yards per try with a score. Fellow receiver Jarius Wright will also get a look, and they'll both get a shot to replace Lance Ray, who was released from his scholarship, on kickoff returns. Cobi Hamilton averaged 17.8 yards per try on his eight attempts, while Adams averaged a mere 15.8 yards per try.
Watch Out For … Breeding to get more attention. It's almost impossible to get any limelight as a punter in the SEC, and while Breeding might not be Georgia's Drew Butler, he's a good, strong kicker who should be a weapon.
Strength: Punt returns. Adams is phenomenal, finishing fifth in the nation, and everyone seemed to come up with a big return when they got their turn.
Weakness: Kickoff returns. Last in the SEC and 106th in the nation, the Hogs have a ton of work to do. Ray averaged 22.5 yards per try and the production still stunk.
Outlook: The kickoff coverage team was miserable and the kickoff returns were lousy, but everything else was solid. Breeding is a keeper and Hocker is a good, reliable kicker to count on for the next three years.
Unit Rating: 7
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2011 Arkansas Defense |
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