Preview 2009 - Defense
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2009 Arkansas Depth
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What you need to know:
The Hogs finished last in the SEC in most of the major defensive
categories and was tenth in pass defense. Now there's room for a
major improvement under defensive coordinator Willy Robinson
with a big, veteran defensive line, a fast and productive
linebacking corps and a promising secondary that needs to be
better, but will benefit from not playing too many teams that
can throw. All the starters return to the defensive front seven,
so now there needs to be a more consistent pass rush, more done
against the better running teams, and more big plays overall.
The defense struggled to take the ball away and was awful on
third downs. More takeaways and decreasing the third down
conversion percentage from 42% to around 35% would do wonders.
Malcolm Sheppard, 6.5
Interceptions: Ramon Broadway, Jerry Franklin, 2
Star of the defense:
Senior DT Malcolm Sheppard
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman
LB Matt Marshall
Best pro prospect: Sheppard
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sheppard, 2) LB Jerry
Franklin, 3) DE Adrian Davis
Strength of the defense: Defensive front size, Linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Pass defense, Consistent pass rush
Sophomore Jake Bequette
was one of the biggest surprises in spring ball of last
year showing speed, quickness, and size. It translated into an
All-Freshman season making 45 tackles with a sack and three
tackles for loss, but while he was solid, he wasn't the pass
rusher he appeared destined to become. He has gotten bigger over
the last year, up to 6-5 and 271 pounds, and now he could end up
moving to the inside. He'll likely stay on the end, where he
started 11 times last season, but he'd be more effective as a
The star of the defensive front is
Malcolm Sheppard, a 6-2, 280-pound senior who's
good enough to play either tackle spot, even though he's better
when he's not on the nose. The All-SEC performer was second on
the team with 68 tackles and led the way with 6.5 sacks, 14.5
tackles for loss, and 12 quarterback hurries. Extremely quick
for his size, he's a blur into the backfield against most
interior offensive linemen, and while he doesn't always close
and come up with the sack. he's always providing pressure and
collapsing the pocket.
6-1, 289-pound sophomore
Zach Stadther came up with a whale of a true freshman
season finishing fourth on the team with 57 tackles with four
tackles for loss and eight quarterback hurries. While he's a
bowling ball of a nose tackle with great leverage, he's also
extremely quick and is a surprising interior pass rusher. He
took his lumps in his first season, and now that he knows what
he's doing, he should be far more consistent.
Adrian Davis has to be more of a pass rushing
terror. He's been around long enough to see time in 36 games and
has 17 career starts. Now he could be the team's breakout
lineman. After starting out his career as a linebacker, making
65 sacks with three sacks and ten tackles for loss in 2007, he
had a nice year on the end making 43 tackles with five sacks and
eight tackles for loss. A pure speed rusher, he's quick off the
line and he's bigger after beefing up to 250 pounds on a 6-4
It'll be an ongoing battle for time on the other side with 6-4,
238-pound junior Adrian Davis listed as the starter ahead of
Antwain Robinson ... for now. Davis started in nine games last year
after starting out his career as a linebacker and made 65 tackles with
three sacks and ten tackles for loss. A pure speed rusher, he's quick
off the line and is great at generating consistent pressure.
Projected Top Reserves: Damario Ambrose
was on the All-SEC Freshman team two years ago with a
nice year, and while he didn't blow up and become a star pass
rusher, he had a nice year as a spot starter making two sacks
with 29 tackles. Working behind Jake Bequette on the end, the
junior has 6-5, 268-pound size and good speed.
the beef on the inside is Patrick Jones, a 6-1,
309-pound junior who hasn't seen too much action but managed to
come up with eight tackles in his seven games of work. He's not
the team's biggest lineman, but he's close and needs to play a
bigger role in the rotation with Malcolm Sheppard.
Looking to be a brick wall on the nose will be 6-1, 322-pound
Alfred Davis, who'll work with Zach Stadther.
The redshirt freshman got on the weights in his first year at
school and he now should be a strong, active-for-his-size
prospect to count on for the next four years.
Watch Out For ... movement. Bequette can play
inside and out, and the coaching staff will use him from time to
time inside if Ambrose becomes a force on the outside. Sheppard
will see time at both tackle spots.
Strength: Size. The Hogs have NFL-sized tackles with
big, beefy backups to put in when needed on the inside. Bequette
is a tackle-sized end, while Davis has bulked up and is more
than just a big linebacker now.
Weakness: Stopping the run. What was an issue at the end
of the Houston Nutt era was a huge problem last year. The line
allowed 171 yards per game and got ripped up by Alabama (328
yards) and Mississippi State (226 yards).
Outlook: The line wasn't awful, but it was
inconsistent and it didn't step up to stop enough teams. It was
fantastic for a two-game stretch against Auburn and Kentucky,
and a few games later, Tulsa ran without a problem. There's
plenty of size, good experience, and lots of potential for
improvement. With the miles logged in by all the key parts, with
all four starters returning, the production will come.
6-1 sophomore Jerry
Franklin made too many plays down the field and didn't
get into the backfield enough, but he had a great first season
with a team-leading 87 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles
for loss. While he was good in the middle, and improved as the
season went on, he could end up moving to the outside to take
better advantage of his speed and athleticism in space.
Originally a safety, he bulked up to handle the linebacker spot
and now he's even bigger getting up to 237 pounds.
One of the big dramas of last year revolved around
Wendel Davis, a tremendously talented veteran who had
some bizarre off-the-field issues and a knee injury that limited
him on the field. Even so, he ended up starting in seven games
making 53 tackles with two tackles for loss. Now that he's
healthy and ready for a full year, he should regain his form and
be one of the team's top tacklers playing either in the middle
or on the strongside.
Freddy Burton was a question mark after getting
arrested for a DWI, but he ended up playing for most of the
season and started in six games. Despite not being a full-time
player, he still finished third on the team with 66 tackles with
2.5 tackles for loss highlighted by a 16-stop game against
Alabama. Extremely active on the strongside, the 6-2,
227-pounder should come up with a huge season now that he's the
main man on the outside.
Projected Top Reserves: While redshirt freshman
Jelani Smith is an extremely undersized 6-0,
205-pound outside linebacker, he should be a tackling machine
whenever he gets in. Able to play either outside position, he's
a natural on the weakside, playing behind Jerry Franklin, with
speed and quickness to be strong in pass coverage. He won't miss
many open field stops.
Soon to become a major playmaker on the outside is Matt
Marshall, a 6-1, 212-pound athlete who was an New
Jersey state champion hurdler who's good enough to be a part of
the Arkansas track team. Mostly a receiver in high school, he's
still raw as a defender, but he can fly. Sooner than later he'll
carve out a role as a situational pass rusher who'll be a blur
into the backfield.
5-11, 222-pound sophomore
Khiry Battle played last year at safety making five
tackles in his limited time. He got a bit bigger and now should
be a very athletic, very physical linebacker playing in the
middle behind Wendel Davis.
Watch Out For ... far more consistency. Last
year's linebacking corps was a hodge-podge of misfit talents
thanks to a slew of off-the-field problems, suspensions and
injuries. Now that everything has settled down, this should be a
far more productive group on a weekly basis.
Strength: Speed. While undersized, the
linebackers are all like bulked up defensive backs who can fly
to the ball. Even by SEC standards this will be an
ultra-athletic corps that can be used in a variety of ways.
Weakness: Run stopping. While this group can gang tackle
and isn't bad in the open field, teams that wanted to power the
ball didn't have much of a problem when the backs got to the
second level. Consistency was a problem all season long.
Outlook: The coaching staff made the best of a
rough situation and caught a few major breaks health-wise. This
year, this is a veteran group of young talents that should be
better and better as the season goes on, and potentially special
going into 2010 once the depth develops. Burton, Davis and
Franklin, if they stay healthy, will combine for well over 200
The one returning, sure-thing
starter to the secondary is Isaac Madison, a
competent corner who can tackle. The 5-10, 181-pound junior
isn't an elite playmaker, making 38 tackles with a pick and
seven broken up passes, and he has to do far more against top
targets and has to be stronger at attacking the ball. Even so,
he's decent and should be steady.
Working on the other
side will be Ramon Broadway, a 5-9, 191-pound
junior who started in six games and was a great last line of
defense making 52 tackles with two interceptions and a
team-leading ten broken up passes. A big-time prospect out of
high school and a whale of a special teamer early on, he'll now
grow into the role as a key coverman.
With starting free
safety Elton Ford's status up in the air, 6-2, 190-pound senior
Matt Harris might end up being the full-time
starter. He stepped in at linebacker for a stretch and at both
safety spots when needed, and although he only started four
games, he was tied for fourth on the team with 57 tackles with a
sack and five tackles for loss. A fantastic athlete, the son of
former Dallas Cowboy star safety, Cliff, was a big-time prep
hurdler and is great at getting all over the field.
197-pound Jerico Nelson isn't all that big, but
he can hit. The sophomore started seven games and finished with
38 tackles with 3.5 sacks and six broken up passes seeing time
as a fourth linebacker and as a safety. He'll get the call at
strong safety where he should be one of the team's leading
tacklers with tremendous range and speed to go along with his
Projected Top Reserves:
On the way and certain
to find a role somewhere in the mix early on is Anthony
Leon, a huge 6-4, 230-pound safety who could be use as
an outside linebacker and will see time in a variety of ways.
The cousin of the late Sean Taylor was recruited by everyone
from USC to Miami to Oregon, but Arkansas got him from the JUCO
ranks. He started out his career at Florida State making five
tackles before transferring.
Rudell Crim was one of the team's top recruits. He
didn't have a huge season for Butler County CC, making 36
tackles and three interceptions, but the 6-0, 190-pound corner
has speed, tackling ability, and the potential to immediately
step in and be the team's shut-down playmaker on the outside.
Ford going to be ready? He was having a strong freshman
season, with 42 tackles and a pick in eight games, before
suffering a neck injury against Ole Miss that cost him the rest
of the season. He missed all of spring ball and will still be
working to get back on the field throughout the summer, but he's
not quite a sure thing. The 6-0, 204-pound sophomore is a good
tackler with great range at free safety, but he's being brought
Sophomore Tramain Thomas
filled in where needed at safety and got a start at corner early
on as a freshman. This year he'll be used as a nickel back and
as a key backup safety after making 30 tackles with two broken
up passes. At 6-0 and 183 pounds, he's built to play anywhere in
Watch Out For ... the JUCO transfers. Leon is too
big to not be used like a linebacker, and he's too good not to
be used as a big safety. Crim is the team's most talented corner
and needs to make a big impact early on.
Strength: The SEC. It's not like the Hogs will face a
who's who of passing wizards in conference play this year and
gets Texas A&M, Missouri State, Eastern Michigan, and Troy in
non-conference play. Teams will still throw well on this group,
but the Hog secondary isn't likely to get torched.
Weakness: Production. The overall stats weren't that
bad, but that's because, like this year, the Hogs didn't play
many teams that could throw. Texas only came up with 213 yards,
but Colt McCoy completed 21-of-23 passes with three touchdowns
in the blowout. Tulsa went for 344 yards and Kentucky threw for
284. The secondary technically was fine against Alabama, holding
John Parker Wilson to 74 yards, but that's because the Tide
ground game rolled for 328 yards.
Outlook: After finishing last in the SEC in pass
efficiency defense, the secondary needed an upgrade. It hopes to
get it in the addition of Crim, with Leon likely to bounce
around where needed in the back seven. Coming up with more picks
is a must and doing more on third downs would be nice. This is a
mediocre secondary that'll benefit from the schedule, but could
have problems here and there in firefights.
Projected Starters: Alex Tejada
was a big recruit
for the program in 2007 and he came through big time hitting 17-of-23
field goals as a true freshman. And then came the definition of a
sophomore slump as he hit just 4-of-9 field goals missing everything
from beyond 30 yards. He's too talented to be awful again, but he'll
have to win back the team's trust again from behind 40 yards.
The punting game was rock-solid last year thanks to Jeremy Davis,
and now it'll be up to Hawaii transfer Briton Forester
to match the 43.2-yard average. The junior has a live leg and is a
decent directional kicker, but consistency will be the key.
Jairus Wright was awful on punt returns, averaging 2.5
yards per try, while he'll get more chances to show what he can do as a
kickoff returner. Jerell Norton will get his shot as
the starting punt returner after averaging 5.2 yards on his four
Watch Out For ... an improvement across the board.
Former Louisville and Michigan State head coach John L. Smith will take
over the special teams coaching duties and he'll bring an instant
Strength: Tejada. Call last year an aberration. He's a
good talent who could turn it around in hurry and be a special kicker
Weakness: Kick coverage. The punt coverage team
improved, mostly because of a great year from Davis, but the kickoff
coverage has been abysmal and wasn't corrected in Petrino's first year.
After allowing a whopping 23 yards per return in 2007, the Hogs gave up
24 yards per try last year.
Outlook: The special teams were supposed to be a
positive and they turned out to be a nightmare. With Smith aboard to
coach 'em up, this should be one of the team's biggest areas of
improvement as long as Forester can come through with a nice season.