2013 Arkansas Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Arkansas Razorback Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: There's an interesting mix of talents that have to come together in a big hurry. Defensive coordinator Chris Ash inherits a loaded defensive front that should be able to hold its own with any SEC offensive line. The pass rush should be terrific with the combination of Chris Smith and Trey Flowers on the end, while there's terrific size to play around with in the interior. However, the front four will have to make up for the concerns in the back seven. The secondary gets everyone back from a group that got lit up by a Christmas tree finishing last in the league in pass defense and pass efficiency defense. The linebacking corps has to replace all three starters, but it's full of upperclassmen and brings in a few good JUCO transfers.
Star of the defense: Senior DE Chris Smith
Tackles: Alonzo Highsmith, 74
Sacks: Alonzo Highsmith, 3
Interceptions: Eric Bennett, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior CB Tevin Mitchel
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman DE JaMichael Winston
Best pro prospect: Smith
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Smith, 2) DE Trey Flowers, 3) DT Byran Jones
Strength of the defense: Defensive Line, Experienced Secondary
Weakness of the defense: Pass Defense, Linebacker
By far, the defensive front should be the team's biggest strength after being a major positive at times last year. 6-3, 266-pound senior Chris Smith is a speed rusher who led the team with 9.5 sacks with 13 tackles for loss and 12 quarterback hurries to go along with 52 tackles. Big, quick off the ball and very, very disruptive, he came up with the year the team was hoping for, and while it was tough to get all-star honors in the SEC, he received honorable mention recognition and now should be an even bigger deal if he can be as consistent as he was in 2012 generating a sack in six of the final seven games.
Operating on the other side of Smith is 6-4, 256-pound junior Trey Flowers, a good, tough veteran who earned Freshman All-SEC honors after a decent first year and followed it up with 50 tackles, six sacks, 13 tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hurries. Very quick off the ball and extremely disruptive, he's both good against the run and fast into the backfield. While he wasn't steady like Smith, he was unstoppable at times highlighted by a 3.5 sack performance in the win over Auburn.
There's tremendous bulk in the interior with 6-3, 318-pound senior Robert Thomas and 6-2, 310-pound senior Byran Jones. Thomas came in from Coffeyville CC two years ago and turned into a decent part of the rotation coming up with 18 tackles with 2.5 sacks and five quarterback hurries last year. Even though he's big, he's quick off the ball and good at getting into the backfield. Keeping his weight in check is a must, getting down to under 310 pounds last year but able to balloon up if he doesn't watch it. Jones started every game but one last season doing a great job against the run making 52 tackles with 1.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. While he's built for the nose and isn't a sure-thing pass rusher, he's active.
Adding even more bulk inside is 6-1, 340-pound sophomore DeMarcus Hodge, a bowling ball who looks like a nose tackle with the right leverage to sit in the interior and hold his own. Now he needs more time after making two tackles in his limited time. While he's big, 6-3, 284-pound Darius Philon is a quick talent who's going to be a star in the near future. The redshirt freshman was fantastic this offseason showing he could play in the interior or on the outside. An ideal 3-4 end, he can work in a variety of ways.
Watch Out For … the redshirt freshmen. The Hogs will rely on three young and rising ends - JaMichael Winston, Brandon Lewis and Deatrich Wise, Jr. - to grow into pass rushing roles. The 6-5, 254-pound Winston, the best of the bunch, is a big, aggressive pass rusher who's quick off the ball. At 6-6 and 265 pounds, Wise is like a smallish tackle on the outside who should be strong against the run. The 6-5, 258-pound Lewis is a disruptive force out of Tennessee with excellent athleticism.
Strength: Pass rush. It's not just Smith and Flowers on the outside, the rest of the line can hit the quarterback, too. After generating 31 sacks last season, the line should be frothing at the mouth this season and should do even more.
Weakness: Reality. Yeah, the overall stats looked great against the run, but that was partly because everyone spent so much time bombing away and partly because few teams on the slate could pound away. The performance against LSU to close the year was shockingly good, but Alabama, Texas A&M and Mississippi State didn't have a problem on the ground.
Outlook: The line should be outstanding. Bielema is a defensive coach who prides himself on making sure the defensive line is tough and always active, and he has more talent to work with than he did in Madison. Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge should make this veteran crew dominant at times.
Unit Rating: 8.5
The linebacking corps might need some work, but there's tremendous promise and upside. 6-2, 229-pound junior Daunte Carr isn't all that big, but he's very active and extremely smart. With the brains to be wanted by Stanford and Duke, he should be a great quarterback for the front seven from his spot in the middle, but he needs playing time. He'll be backed up by 6-3, 237-pound senior Robert Atiga, a JUCO transfer from Snow College where he dominated in all phases. He saw a little time two year ago and redshirted last year.
6-3, 229-pound junior Braylon Mitchell has decent size and phenomenal quickness, but he has to play up to his talent and potential. A phenomenal recruit three years ago, he has mostly been a special teamer making just one tackle in his limited time. Healthy and given the shot at a starting job, he should blossom on the strongside if he can hold off some newcomers and senior Austin Jones, a 6-2, 230-pound veteran who transferred over from Air Force, but only made one tackle in his two games of work.
Senior Jarrett Lake is a fantastic athlete who saw a decent amount of time over the last few seasons coming up with 11 tackles in his nine games of work. At 6-3 and 220 pounds he has decent size on the weakside, and he could grow into a pass rusher if needed. 6-2, 232-pound sophomore Otha Peters ended up starting the final three games of his true freshman season in the middle, but he could move over to the weakside after making 32 tackles and showing he could handle himself well in SEC action. Versatile, he can step in wherever needed.
Watch Out For … the JUCO transfers. The rest of the linebackers might simply be keeping the seat warm for Martrell Spaight and Myke Tavarres, two excellent recruits brought in to play right away. The 6-0, 220-pound Spaight was a JUCO All-American at Coffeyville CC in Kansas making 231 tackles over the last two seasons. While he's an outside linebacker, he could work in the middle it needed. At 6-2 and 215 pounds, Tavarres is built more like a safety, but he's a great hitter who's a guided missile when he gets a bead on the ball carrier.
Strength: Versatility. The Hogs have several options to play around with hoping for all the linebackers to be able to move around and play in several spots. The goal is to put the top three linebackers on the field and figure out the positions later.
Weakness: Experience. The corps has to replace the linebackers from the 4-2-5 alignment, and now it has to find three starters for the spots. It could take a while to find the right fit.
Outlook: There's plenty of athleticism, upside and promise, but there aren't any sure-thing playmakers considering so many upperclassmen are involved. The hope is for the JUCO guys to ramp things up a bit, but the bigger goal is for the star recruits of past seasons to start playing up to their promise.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The Arkansas secondary was roasted last year time and time again, but now it's loaded with experience led by sophomore Rohan Gaines, who took over a starting job and finished second on the team with 75 tackles with four broken up passes. He didn't do much of anything against the pass, but he was a terrific hitter against the run and was a steady playmaker throughout the year. While he's only 5-11 and 190 pounds, he's a physical strong safety with terrific athleticism.
Also back is 6-0, 191-pound senior Eric Bennett, a corner who moved over to safety making 40 tackles with three broken up passes. He came up with 74 tackles with three picks two years ago, and while he struggled at free safety against the deep ball, he's a consistent hitter against the run. He'll be backed up by 6-0, 198-pound junior Alan Turner, who started twice getting the call against Texas A&M and Auburn making 14 tackles with a pick.
Junior Tevin Mitchel was supposed to make a big difference right away when he arrived on campus, and he did making 56 tackles with a tackle for loss. Banged up last season, he started seven times making 34 tackles with a pick and four broken up passes. At 6-0 and 181 pounds he has the size, and he's not afraid to tackle, but he has to start making most plays with the ball is in the air. He'll hold down one corner job, while the combination of Will Hines and Jared Collins will work on the other side. The 6-1, 191-pound Hines ended up taking over the starting job and got the call in nine games, but he only made 24 tackles with a sack with four broken up passes. He's fast, big and athletic, but he'll be pushed hard by Collins, a 6-0, 169-pound athlete who's slight and thin, but he can move.
Watch Out For … the JUCO transfers. Junior Tiquention Coleman will push Gaines hard for the strong safety job right away, while Carroll Washington will give Mitchel a run at corner. Coleman can work at either corner or safety, making 44 tackles for Georgia Military College last season. Wanted by Wisconsin, he signed on when Bret Bielema became the Hog head coach. Washington comes in from Hartnell CC in California with good coverage skills and fluid athleticism.
Strength: Experience. Technically, four starters return with Mitchel, Bennett, Gaines and Hines all having gone through the SEC wars last year, but they had a problem with …
Weakness: Pass defense. Everyone buy Kentucky roasted the Hog secondary. UK was held to 104 passing yards, but everyone else threw for 200 yards or more without a problem. There were three picks against Auburn and just three more in the other 11 games.
Outlook: This was a disaster that has to be far, far better for the Hogs to make any sort of improvement. The pass rush will be stellar and the front seven will do its job, but the defense has to get off the field because the veteran secondary has to start coming up with a few stops.
Unit Rating: 6
Senior Zach Hocker struggled a bit after a great start to his career, hitting 11-of-18 shots last year with a block. He doesn't have a huge leg, but he's usually good from 50 yards and in. However, he missed a few too many chippies and didn't blast away for any big field goals. Junior John Henson hit both of his short-range shots and has a decent short-range leg.
The punting game was the team's biggest strength, leading the SEC and finishing fifth in the nation netting 40.81 yards per try. Dylan Breeding averaged 45.6 yards per try and put 18 inside the 20, and now it'll be up to Hocker to try showing what he can do. A triple threat, Hocker will also handle kickoffs.
Running back Nate Holmes didn't get anything going on punt returns, averaging just 6.4 yards per try, but he was fantastic compared to the miserable kick return game. Several options will be tried out to replace Dennis Johnson, an elite talent who only averaged 18.2 yards per try.
Watch Out For … Sam Irwin-Hill. The 6-3, 215-pound JUCO transfer from City College of San Francisco is an interesting punting prospect. The Australian can punt with either leg, and he can bomb away with either one. If he does what he's supposed to, Hocker can only focus on placekicking.
Strength: The punting game. Whoever steps in for Breeding will be fine. The punt coverage team will get the job done after allowing 6.1 yards per try.
Weakness: Return game. It was supposed to be a major plus, but nothing worked finishing dead last in the SEC in kickoff returns and 93rd in the nation in punt returns. There's speed to work with, but the production has to be better.
Outlook: A mega-disappointment, the call has gone out to be fantastic again on special teams. Hocker is a proven veteran and there's enough speed and skill to play around with in the return game and coverage teams.
Unit Rating: 5.5
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