2007 Arkansas Preview - Defense
Arkansas Razorback Defense
Preview 2007 - Defense
2007 Arkansas Preview |
2007 Arkansas Depth Chart
2006 CFN Arkansas
What you need to know: It'll be a good defense, but there
are some big-time talent losses in linemen Jamaal Anderson and
Keith Jackson, corner Chris Houston, and linebacker Sam
Olajubutu. There's plenty of speed and athleticism to go around
in what should be a solid back seven, but everyone has to stay
healthy. The line needs tackle depth with Marcus Harrison
questionable after tearing his knee this spring. Overall,
coordinator Reggie Herring will keep things aggressive with tons
of plays in the backfield, along with lots of pressure applied
by the defensive backs.
Weston Dacus, 95
Antwain Robinson, 8.5
Interceptions: Michael Grant, 3
Star of the defense: Junior DE Antwain Robinson
Proven starters, proven leader
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DT
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Ryan Powers
Best pro prospect: Senior DT Marcus Harrison
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Robinson, 2) Harrison,
3) FS Michael Grant
Strength of the defense: Speed, Linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Projected Starters: The line is full of major question
marks, and none bigger than the knee of 6-3, 307-pound senior Marcus
Harrison, after tearing his ACL early in spring ball. On the plus
side, the injury happened early enough for him to possibly be back at
some point in the first month of the season, but that's still
optimistic. When healthy, he's a top plugger on the inside with 42
tackles last season and 3.5 tackles for loss. If he's out for the year,
it'll be devastating.
The other concern is with fellow starting end Antwain Robinson,
who has all-star talent, but struggled through a hip problem this spring
as well as some legal issues. The 6-2, 255-pound junior flourished on
the other side of Jamaal Anderson last year, and now he's supposed to be
the team's top pass rusher after making 68 tackles, 8.5 sacks and 14.5
tackles for loss.
Back at his starting tackle spot will be 6-2, 292-pound junior Ernest
Mitchell, a reliable cog in the system who made 41 tackles with a
sack and nine tackles for loss. He's big and tough against the run, and
he could be one of the team's most valuable players if Harrison's knee
Trying to take over for Jamaal Anderson on the outside will be 6-2,
255-pound sophomore Malcolm Sheppard, a very fast, very promising
former tackle who should be good against the run while growing into a
decent pass rusher. He made 12 tackles with eight quarterback hurries in
a limited role. A great athlete, he's a rising star on the line.
Projected Top Reserves: Working behind Robinson
will be 6-5, 258-pound senior Chris Wade to take over. The former
JUCO All-American is a speed rusher who didn't do enough speed rushing
last year, making 15 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss.
He's had knee problems in the past, but appears ready for a nice final
Soon to be a major factor in the backfield is 6-4, 235-pound sophomore
Adrian Davis, who might be linebacker sized, but he has the speed
to become a star pass rusher. He made 19 tackles in a reserve role, and
now he'll be a bigger player with the Robinson's injury questions.
If and when Harrison isn't in the mix for an extended period of time,
6-3, 314-pound senior Fred Bledsoe will step in and start at
right tackle. Part offensive lineman, part defensive tackle, he's a big,
physical defender who won't get into the backfield all that often, but
will be strong, in time, against the run.
One of the key reserves in the tackle rotation is 6-1, 292-pound junior
Cord Gray after making 20 tackles and a tackle for loss. The
former offensive lineman isn't the most athletic player around, but he's
tough behind Mitchell on the left side.
Watch Out For ... the line to have to scramble.
Even if Harrison is able to play, it's asking a whole bunch for him to
be able to hold up for a full season, much less be consistently
effective in SEC play. Consider him 50/50 at best, while Robinson's
variety of issues makes him a bit of a question mark.
Strength: Speed on the outside. Robinson, Sheppard,
Davis and Wade can all move. While it'll be asking a lot to replace
Anderson, generating pressure won't be a problem.
Weakness: Sure-thing veterans. While there's depth, are
there any full-time starters who can be difference makers if Harrison is
out and Robinson doesn't shine as the number one go-to end?
Outlook: The strength of the defense almost by
default, it'll be a great line if Marcus Harrison can be healthy on the
inside and if Antwain Robinson can have an All-SEC season on the end.
Replacing NFL talent like Jamaal Anderson and Keith Jackson certainly
won't be easy, but there are several options to rotate in at each spot.
There's a nice overall combination of speed, size and skill, but time
might be needed to develop.
Projected Starters: There are some big holes to fill in
the linebacking corps, but there's some good news with the return of
6-2, 222-pound sophomore Freddie Fairchild from a knee injury
that kept him out almost all of last year. An All-SEC caliber talent who
made 12 tackles in two games, he spent all of spring ball recovering and
should be ready to be one of the team's leaders come fall. Two years
ago, he made 59 tackles as a freshman showing excellent speed and a good
nose for getting into the backfield.
Starting again in the middle will be 6-2, 230-pound senior Weston
Dacus, a serviceable veteran who was third on the team with 95
tackles and eight tackles for loss. While not all that big, he's quick
and versatile, with the talent to play anywhere in the corps. He's
strong at making plays when they're funneled towards him.
The big problem is on the weakside, where heart-and-soul all-star Sam
Olajubutu, who made 233 tackles over the last two seasons, will be
replayed by 6-1, 210-pound sophomore Ryan Powers. A hamstring
injury kept him from getting his feet wet last year. He might be
undersized, but he has cornerback speed and should make up for any
problems by being all over the field.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-1, 220-pound sophomore
Wendel Davis has better speed than Dacus in the middle with great
range. He turned in a nice true freshman season making 20 tackles and
two tackles for loss as a reserve, and now he'll play a big role in the
Looking to see time on the weakside is 6-2, 214-pound junior Desmond
Williams, a former safety who'll look to carve out a niche for
himself. Mostly a special teamer so far, making two tackles last year,
he has to quickly grow into a steady performer if Powers has a hard time
holding up for a full season.
Former high school running back and defensive back Chip Gregory
bulked up to 225 pounds and should be a strong, very fast option behind
Fairchild on the strongside. He's fast enough to play on either outside
Watch Out For ... Powers to be great in place of
Olajubutu. Fine, so he's not going to be an All-America caliber defender
right away like Olajubutu was, but he has the toughness, speed and
playmaking potential to be one of the team's leading tacklers and a
major disruptive force.
Strength: Speed. By design, this isn't all that big a
group, but everyone can run, especially on the outside. Powers and
Fairchild are faster than most defensive backs.
Weakness: Possibly, durability. The corps is relying on
Fairchild to be as good as new on a retooled knee, while Powers has to
stay healthy after his hamstring injury cost him most of 2006. If
they're out, it's uh-oh time.
Outlook: It won't be the doom and gloom some might
predict, but there will be a bit of a drop-off in overall production
unless Ryan Powers is a superstar from day one and if Freddie Fairchild
is healthy. Weston Dacus is a good veteran who'll help things out in the
middle, and he has to be the steady force for everyone to work around.
This will likely be a star corps going into 2008, and will certainly be
better as the season goes on.
Projected Starters: The secondary would've been stellar if
Chris Houston had returned for his senior year. Now that he's gone,
it'll likely be to senior Matterral Richardson to be the new
number one, lock down corner. Expected to be a top starter going into
last year, "Red" made 63 tackles and an interception with ten broken up
passes as a good second corner. He's a strong 6-0 and 197 pounds with
good skills, but he's not a special defender like Houston was.
On the other side will be 6-0, 184-ound sophomore Jerell Norton,
who made 15 tackles as a backup. With sub-4.4 speed, he'll have no
problem staying with the faster receivers, but his consistency will be a
question mark, and there will be a huge drop in the physical play at the
position after Houston beat everyone up last year.
Filling in at strong safety for second leading tackler Randy Kelly will
be 6-3, 215-pound senior Matt Hewitt. The former linebacker had a
big year making 63 tackles with three tackles for loss, and now he
should shine with more room to roam. The former JUCO transfer has decent
speed and big hitting ability.
Stepping in at free safety is 5-11, 182-pound senior Michael Grant
after injuring his knee last year. The former corner made 41 tackles
and three picks in nine games before getting hurt, and while he should
be as good as new by the start of the season, he'll have to quickly find
his next-level speed that made him such an all-around playmaker.
Projected Top Reserves: 5-10, 194-pound senior
Kevin Woods did a great job of stepping in and starting for Grant at
free safety over the final four games of the year, finishing with 45
tackles and two interceptions. While he doesn't have Grant's speed, he's
a good hitting veteran who can take over and produce at either safety
Pushing for time at left corner is 6-1, 191-pound junior Jamar Love,
a big, fast option who made 16 tackles with three broken up passes. He
has the wheels to see time as a third corner, and see time in the
rotation with Norton. He's physical enough to do a little of what Chris
Houston was able to.
Watch Out For ... less man coverage. The coaching
staff likes its corners to press and jam the receivers, and that worked
with an NFL first round draft pick corner like Chris Houston. Richardson
and Norton are big and physical, but there will be a bit more zone
coverages to play to their strengths.
Strength: Solid playmakers. Richardson is more than fine
at one corner, Hewitt is a veteran defender who'll be great now that he
moved back to safety, and Grant should be special once he feels back to
100% on his injured knee.
Weakness: Interceptions. The Hogs came up with 16 last
year, but three were made by the defensive line. There weren't enough
big plays made by the secondary in key moments. There's enough speed and
skill to be even more lethal when teams challenge the corners.
Outlook: It's not the sexiest secondary around,
but it'll be very, very good as long as everyone is healthy and as long
as Jerell Norton comes through with a nice season at corner. Matt Hewitt
has to play like a safety, and not a linebacker playing safety, while
Michael Grant has to show off the speed that made him such a good
playmaker before hurting his knee. This will be an aggressive group
that'll hit like a ton of bricks.
Projected Starters: The kicking game was a major issue
last year with Jeremy Davis and Stephen Arnold combining to hit
six of 14 field goals, so the desperate hope is for junior Brian
Vavra to provide some consistency, or hope and pray for true
freshman Alex Tejada to play up to his hype.
Davis might have struggled as a placekicker, and now he'll try to be
more reliable as a punter, taking over for Jacob Skinner and his
mediocre 38.1-yard average. However, Skinner put 26 inside the 20.
Watch Out For ... a placekicking battle up until
the opener against Troy. Vavra wasn't awful in spring ball, but everyone
outside of the Vavra household is hoping for Tejada to be the real deal.
Strength: Kickoff returns. Felix Jones is special,
averaging 24.1 yards per return last season. Darren McFadden isn't bad,
either, averaging 26.2 yards per try.
Weakness: Kick coverage. The field goal kicking can't be
much worse, and there can't be less pop on punts. Allowing 8.2 yards per
punt return and 21.4 yards per kickoff return isn't going to get the job
Outlook: If it wasn't for Felix Jones, the special
teams would be the worst in the SEC. It's amazing the Hogs got by with
things so bad, but they lost two games late, to LSU and Wisconsin, by a
total of eight points. With field position meaning everything, and every
point precious against the top teams, the kicking game has to be far,