Arkansas Preview 2006 - Defense
Arkansas Razorbacks
Posted Aug 8, 2006

Arkansas Razorbacks Preview 2006 - Arkansas Defense

What you need to know ... It's a fast defense that got better as last year went on, and now should be great as long as there aren't major injury problems in the back seven. The linebacking corps has speed and talent led by All-SEC star Sam Olajabutu, but there's no depth relying on several true freshmen to help out the top four in the rotation. Chris Houston leads an excellent group of corners, and the safeties should be better with lightning-fast Michael Grant moving to free safety. 300-pounders Marcus Harrison and Keith Jackson should clog up the middle, but the ends need to generate more sacks.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Sam Olajbutu, 118
Sacks: Desmond Sims, 4
Interceptions: Michael Coe, Michael Grant, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Sam Olajabutu
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior FS Michael Grant
Unsung star on the rise: Junior CB Matterral Richardson
Best pro prospect: Junior DT Marcus Harrison
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Olajabutu, 2) CB Chris Houston, 3) DT Keith Jackson
Strength of the defense: Corner, starting linebackers
Weakness of the defense:
Backup linebacker, safety

Defensive Line
It's an unsung group that can grow into a major positive if the ends can generate a few most sacks. 300-pounders Keith Jacmson and Marcus Harrison form one of the SEC's more active tackle tandems and should be great all year against the run. Jamaal Anderson and Anthony Brown are decent starting ends, but the hope is for JUCO transfer Chris Wade and sophomore Antwain Robinson to blossom into top pass rushers.
The key to the unit: Use all the experience to be even better against the run. More sacks need to come from the ends.
Defensive Line Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- DE Jamaal Anderson, Jr. - 47 tackles, 4 sacks, 10.5 TFL
Anderson turned into a monster at the end of last year once he got more playing time. He's a rangy 6-6, 268-pound athlete who played wide receiver in high school as well as on defense. He upped his motor this spring and appears ready to emerge as a superstar this year; he's putting in the work to be a top all-around defender.

- DT Marcus Harrison, Jr. - 37 tackles, 1 sack, 5 TFL, 15 quarterback hurries
After being good his first two years, Harrison had a huge spring and appears on the verge of big things. He's 6-3 and 315 pounds looking like a more natural tackle after moving over from end last season. He maintained his pass rushing technique when he moved inside, but he needs to close a little bit better and come up with more sacks rather than pressures.

- DT Keith Jackson, Sr. - 74 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 6.5 TFL
Jackson got into good shape, go his knee healthy, and had a huge season finishing fifth on the team in tackles on the way to second-team All-SEC honors. He's an active anchor on the line who's great at at shedding blockers and plugging up holes, but he's not going to plow over anyone.

- DE Anthony Brown, Sr. - 24 tackles, 7 TFL, 6 quarterback hurries
Brown will combine with Antwain Robinson for the job on the right side. The 6-6, 235-pound senior came back this spring after missing the second half of last year with a knee injury, but he was inconsistent in spring ball. He has a full-tilt motor and wide receiver athleticism that makes him great at getting into the backfield

Top Backups
- DE Antwain Robinson, Soph. - 5 tackles, 3 TFL
The 6-3, 250-pound Robinson was time in three games as a true sophomore and showed tremendous promise. He'll camp out in opposing backfields when he sees time behind Anthony Brown on the right side.
- DT Ernest Mitchell, Soph. - 6 tackles, 1 sack
While not the big body in the middle like the other tackles, the 6-2, 281-pound sophomore is hardly soft. He saw plenty of time last season and looked like a freshman, but he has the potential to be a consistent backup behind Marcus Harrison.
- DE Chris Wade, Jr.
Don't be shocked if the All-America JUCO transfer ends up starting sooner than later. He's 6-6 and 255 pounds with speed making 60 tackles and six sacks for NE Oklahoma A&M before getting knocked out with a knee injury.

The Hogs have a tremendous foursome to work with after Desmond Sims moved from end to the middle and  with Freddie Fairchild hitting the weights and growing into a good-sized defender on the outside. Sam Olajabutu is one of the SEC's best playmakers and should be in the hunt for All-America honors. Weston Davis is good enough to start, but he'll likely be the backup to Sims in the middle. After those four, the depth drops off the map with a slew of true freshmen needing to make an impact.
The key to the unit: Everyone has to stay healthy. Injuries early on would kill the corps.
Linebacker Rating: 7.5

Projected Starters
- Sam Olajabutu, Sr. - 118 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 14.5 TFL, 3 broken up passes, 10 quarterback hurries
While he's not big at an undersized 5-9 and 229 pounds, he has unlimited range and is a sure-thing open field tackler and pass rusher. He's a teeth-rattling hitter who plays with an attitude because of his size. Driven to prove that last year wasn't a fluke, he should be a certain all-star again if he can stay healthy.

- Desmond Sims, Sr. - 63 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 10.5 TFL, 8 quarterback hurries
A wide receiver when he came to Arkansas, the 6-3, 226-pound senior started all 11 games at left defensive end and now will move back to linebacker. He's more natural in a middle linebacker role where he can use his toughness to do more against the run and his range to make more plays in space.

- Freddie Fairchild, Soph. - 59 tackles, 2 sacks, 6 TFL, 3 quarterback hurries
Way undersized last year, Fairchild bulked up to 215 pounds and should be more physical on the strongside. He started right off the bat as a freshman and had a nice year, and now with his combination of size and speed he should dominate.

Top Backups
- Weston Dacus, Jr. - 26 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 quarterback hurries
While Desmond Sims is one of the team's better all-around defenders, Dacus is pushing hard for the starting job in the middle. He's one of the only expereinced backup linebackers with time in every game and a start in the opener against Missouri State. If he turns out to be too good to keep off the field, Sims could move around. 
- Wendel Davis, Fr.
The 210-pound true freshman has to be a key contributor right away on the weakside behind Sam Olajabutu. He has 4.6 speed and has good range, but he'll have to play through a ton of early mistakes.

Defensive Backs
The corners are among the best in the SEC, and the safeties should be better now that Michael Grant has moved from corner to free safety. Chris Houston would get all-star honors if anyone bothered to throw in his direction, while Matterral Richardson is growing into an all-star on the other side. There's depth and experience at corner, but the same can't be said for safety. Randy Kelly is a decent strong safety, but he's replaceable if anyone else steps up.
The key to the unit: A few more interceptions would be a plus now that Vickiel Vaughn is gone. The safeties have to become steady, consistent producers.
Secondary Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- CB Chris Houston, Jr. - 20 tackles, 1 TFL, 8 broken up passes
Houston is on the verge of being an All-SEC star. His stats weren't that great because no one threw his way, but he's a dangerous corner who'll match up on everyone's number one target. He's a great athlete who can run with anyone.

- FS Michael Grant, Jr. - 22 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 3 interceptions, 7 broken up passes
Grant moved from corner to safety to add more production and more speed to the position. He's not all that huge and won't be the biggest hitter around, but as one of the team's fastest players, he should be fantastic against the pass. He has tremendous range and should always be around the ball.

- SS Randy Kelly, Sr. - 58 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 2 broken up passes
Kelly turned into a top playmaker by the end of last season, but his motor doesn't always go full tilt and is better in games than practices. He got a little bit of a look at free safety this spring, but he's better at strong safety where he can be a huge hitter against the run.

- CB Matterral Richardson, Jr.- 44 tackles, 1 sack, 6 broken up passes, 1 quarterback hurry
With the best all-around skills of all the corners, Richardson should be in for a huge season. He hits like a safety, but he occasionally covers like one and has to be more consistent. "Red" took over the starting job late last season after being a quality backup throughout the year.

Top Backups
- CB Michael Coe, Sr. - 31 tackles, 3 interceptions, 8 broken up passes
The starter for most of last year before giving way to Matterral Richardson, Coe is a good veteran who'll be better as a backup. He doesn't have the skills of the starters, but he he's 6-1 and is able to handle himself well.
- FS Rashaad Johnson, RFr.
The walk-on has gotten his shot to take over the free safety job, and while he's a bit limited in his skills, he's good enough to be part of the backup rotation.
- CB Darius Vinnett, Sr. - 14 tackles
Back after getting a getting a medical redshirt after having problems with his knee early last year, he adds experience and talent on the left side behind Chris Houston. He was amazing over the first three games of last year before suffering tendonitis.

Special Teams
The punting game is more than fine with Jacob Skinner and Jeremy Davis each able to kick well, but Davis is a bit of an unknown as a placekicker. Felix Jones is one of the nation's best kickoff returners averaging a whopping 31.9 yards per try last year. He'll get a look at returning punts, but fullback Peyton Hillis will do most of the work after averaging 10.3 yards per try.
The key to the unit: Jeremy Davis has to be as consistent a placekicker from inside the 40 as Chris Balsiero was, and he has to show a bit more range.
Special Team Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- PK Jeremy Davis, Jr.
Davis will take over for Chris Balsiero who was decent, but had no range. Davis will focus primarily on his placekicking duties, but he's also a punter and will push Jacob Skinner for the starting job. He averaged 39.2 yards per punt in 2004.
- P Jacob Skinner, Sr. - 50 punts, 3,530 yds, 41.8 yards per kick, 15 inside the 20
Skinner is a great directional kicker but doesn't bomb too many of them; that's by design. He forced 21 fair catches and should be able to get the team out of several jams if he can beat out Jeremy Davis for the job.

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Arkansas Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
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Arkansas Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
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Arkansas Preview 2006 - Offense
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