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
Sam Olajbutu, 118
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
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
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
- 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
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
- 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
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
- 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
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
- 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
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
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.
- Weston Dacus, Jr. - 26 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 quarterback
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.
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
- CB Chris Houston, Jr. - 20 tackles, 1 TFL, 8 broken up
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
- 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.
- CB Michael Coe, Sr. - 31 tackles, 3 interceptions, 8 broken up
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.
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
- 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