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2009 Arkansas Preview - Defense
Arkansas DE Adrian Davis
Arkansas DE Adrian Davis
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 17, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Arkansas Razorback Defense

Arkansas Razorbacks

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Arkansas Preview | 2009 Arkansas Offense
- 2009 Arkansas Defense | 2009 Arkansas Depth Chart
- 2008 Hog Preview | 2007 Hog Preview | 2006 Hog Preview

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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jerry Franklin, 87
Sacks: 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 Isaac Madison
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 athleticism
Weakness of the defense:
Pass defense, Consistent pass rush

Defensive Linemen

Projected Starters: 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 3-4 end. 

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.

Senior 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 frame.

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.

Bringing 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.
Rating: 7

Linebackers

Projected Starters: 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.

Junior 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 tackles.
Rating: 6.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: 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.

5-9, 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 physical play.


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.

JUCO transfer 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.


Is Elton 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 back cautiously.

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 the secondary.

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.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

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 attempts.

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 upgrade.
Strength
:
Tejada. Call last year an aberration. He's a good talent who could turn it around in hurry and be a special kicker again.
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.
Rating: 6.5