2010 Arkansas Preview – Defense
Arkansas DE Jake Bequette
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Arkansas Razorback Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The Hogs have finished last in the SEC in total defense in each of the last two seasons and were a disaster at times against the pass last year, but with seven starters returning, a slew of good backups, and with experience and options for every spot, there's hope for a night-and-day turnaround. Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson is playing around with the secondary moving some key starters around, like corner Rudell Crim to safety, to try to generate some semblance of production, while there's a battle for spots at middle linebacker and at defensive tackle. The outside linebacker situation is great with Jerry Franklin and Jerico Nelson a solid twosome, and with Freddy Burton able to step in at any time. The pass rush improved last year and the run defense got stronger, but now the defense has to be more consistent and has to improve on a decent second half of the season.
Tackles: Jerry Franklin, 94
Sacks: Jake Bequette, 5.5
Interceptions: Jerry Franklin, Tramain Thomas, 3
Star of the defense: Junior LB Jerry Franklin
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore CB Darius Winston
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Jerco Nelson
Best pro prospect: Franklin
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Franklin, 2) DE Jake Bequette, 3) LB Jerico Nelson
Strength of the defense: Outside Linebacker, Depth
Weakness of the defense: Pass Coverage, Consistency
Step one up front is to replace Malcolm Sheppard, the anchor of a defensive tackle who everything worked around. Senior Projected Starters: Patrick Jones played in ten games but wasn't too much of a factor making eight tackles with two tackles for loss. At 6-1 and 309 pounds he's built like a prototype nose tackle and has the toughness to hold up against the run, but he hasn't done nearly enough to suggest that he can be Sheppard. He has the bulk, but does he have the ability to get into the backfield? Simply holding up against the run would be enough.
Returning to his starting spot on the inside is junior Zach Stadther , a rising playmaker who started eight times but became a backup midway through the season. At 6-1 and 295 pounds he's a block at tackle and gets great leverage, and now he's due to be the team's steadiest tackle after making 57 tackles as a true freshman and 42 last year. While he's extremely quick, he took a step back last year as an interior pass rusher and needs to make more plays in the backfield.
Junior Jake Bequette needs to be the team's most dangerous pass rusher after tying for the team lead with 5.5 sacks with nine tackles for loss. At 6-5 and 271 pounds, he has ideal size for a 3-4 end and the speed and quickness to get a long look from the NFL types. He's still growing into a pass rusher and he still has the ability and the potential to get noticed with more consistency and more work. Strong enough to move on the inside if needed, he can do a little bit of everything, but he needs to be more productive with all of his skills.
Benefitting from being on the other side of Bequette on the other end will be 6-1, 241-pound sophomore Tenarius Wright , a terrific prospect who got a start against South Carolina when he wasn't a key backup behind Adrian Davis. While he's built like a big linebacker, he can handle himself well on the end with a nice first step and good range finishing with 34 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and seven tackles for loss. With three forced fumbles, he proved to be a disruptive force to get excited about.
Senior Projected Top Reserves: Damario Ambrose was an All-SEC Freshman performer and has been a decent reserve over his career. While he hasn't blossomed into a top starter who owns the end, but at 6-5 and 270 pounds he's big enough to hold his own and athletic enough to get into the backfield from time to time. He started over the second half of the season, but he only made 13 tackles and didn't pick up a sack.
6-3, 290-pound junior Lavunce Askew got a start late in the year against Troy and was a decent reserve when he got his chances making 18 tackles with 1.5 sacks. Quick for his size, he has the ability to work as a 3-4 end or be a key tackle in the rotation. If he can toughen up against the run, he'll fight for a starting spot.
At 6-5 and 307 pounds, sophomore DeQuinta Jones is a huge presence for the inside and with a little bit of starting experience. He got the call against Auburn, Mississippi State, and LSU, and he finished the year with a solid 24 tackles with 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. A top prospect who could've gone anywhere, he's starting to play like it.
6-3, 330-pound Calvin Barnett was the team's top recruit and is the team's future anchor. With his size and his upside, he was given the full court press from places like Florida, USC, and LSU, and considering he's from Tulsa, was steal getting him away from Oklahoma. Not just a block of granite against the run, he can get into the backfield, too.
Watch Out For … the true freshmen. The best part of the 2010 recruiting class, the line got a ton of help. Along with Barnett, 6-1, 270-pound Jatashun Beachum is a freak with 4.6 speed who was recruited by some to play running back. While he might move to another spot, he could be a whale of an end. 6-2, 310-pound Byran Jones wasn't Barnett, but he was another top recruit who could be special.
Strength: Depth. The Hogs should have a great rotation with players like Ambrose and Askew able to step in at any time, and with the recruiting class coming in, the production should only be better from the twos.
Weakness: Consistency. The coaching staff had to keep tinkering with the defensive front to find the right mix. The front line was a bit too mediocre against the run, and that has to change with the rotation needing to create more of a wall.
Outlook: This is the year when it all needs to come together. That'll be a common theme on a team with so much experience, but after a few years of struggling, the talent, the depth, and the bodies are in place to take a major leap forward. The front four took a step up last year, and now it'll be time to shine if a sure-thing pass rusher can emerge on the outside.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Junior Projected Starters: Jerry Franklin went from being a stat-sheet filler, but with too many plays made down the field, to a major producer who became an impact star. At 6-1 and 241 pounds, he's a big outside linebacker who doesn't miss a stop. He led the team with 94 tackles with 1.5 sacks, five tackles for loss, and with three interceptions and two recovered fumbles taking one 84 yards for a score against Texas A&M. Originally a safety, he has the speed, quickness, and athleticism to get all over the field.
At the moment, junior Jerico Nelson will work on the outside but he could play safety if needed. The 5-10, 205-pounder got a start in seven games being used at both outside spots, and he came through finishing third on the team with 74 tackles with 2.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, and an interception. While he's undersized, he's always going full-tilt and he's always fighting to get around the ball. Not just a strong outside defender, he's also one of the team's best special teamers.
There's a major fight for the spot in the middle with senior Jermaine Love getting the first look to replace Wendel Davis. The 5-11, 230-pound senior only made two tackles in his three games of work, but at 5-11 and 230 pounds he has a compact body type built to hit. He has been around just long enough to know what he's doing. A tremendous athlete, he's one of the team's strongest players and he moves well, but it has to translate to game action.
Senior Projected Top Reserves: Freddy Burton is a decent veteran who has had some issues off the field, getting arrested for a DWI a few years ago, but he was able to shine on the field finishing third on the team in tackles two years ago, making 66 stops, and making 54 stops with two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss last year. While he'll likely start the season being listed as a key backup, he could step in and start at any time, getting the nod in seven games last year, and he'll get the call often on the outside. With his experience and his athleticism, the 6-2, 238-pounder will get his share of playing time.
Getting every shot to take over the starting job in the middle is Terrell Williams , a promising 6-3, 237-pound sophomore who saw time in every game and got a little bit of time in making nine tackles. A good athlete, very smart, and a terrific tackler, he'll eat everything up that comes inside. Originally considered a safety, he now looks and plays like a linebacker.
6-0, 228-pound Bret Harris started out his career as a safety, bulked up, and now is a backup linebacker working on the outside behind Jerico Nelson. He got the start against Eastern Michigan and in the bowl game against East Carolina finishing with six tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss and a broken up pass. With his athleticism, he can be used as a pass rusher and when the linebacking corps needs more speed on the field.
Watch Out For … the fight for time in the middle. Wendel Davis made 79 tackles in his 11 starts and was a disruptive force. Love has all the skills and all the tools to be a major playmaker and a stat-sheet filler, but his tools haven't translated to the field quite yet. Williams is going to be great when he gets his chances inside.
Strength: Outside linebacker. Franklin is going to be an all-star and he should be the team's leading tackler again, while Nelson came up with a strong enough season to hope for even more. Burton is more than good enough to start, while Harris has the athleticism to be a dangerous factor when he gets his chances.
Weakness: Impact plays. There were a few here and there, mostly by Franklin, but the linebacking corps has to do a bit more to make things happen in the backfield and has to use its experience and athleticism to be fearsome. This will never be an elite run stopping unit, so it has to make up for it in other ways.
Outlook: Rocky over the last few years, it has taken a while for the coaching staff to put together a linebacking corps that can rock at an SEC level. While there's a hole to fill in the middle and with some big decisions to make on the outside, this should be the best the linebackers have been in a few years.
Unit Rating: 7
The coaching staff has to do something to try to shake up a struggling secondary, and the hope will be for the move of starting corner Projected Starters: Rudell Crim to strong safety. The former JUCO transfer was one of the team's top recruits last year, and he struggled with just four broken up passes and no interceptions despite playing every game at corner. While he's a good-hitter, making 43 tackles, and he has 6-0, 190-pound size to go along with excellent speed, he needs to be steady as he takes over a key safety spot.
Junior Tramain Thomas started the first three games last year and ended up playing in nine games, but he wasn't consistent making 32 tackles with a team-leading three interceptions. The 6-0, 187-pounder is versatile enough to move to corner, nickel, or wherever needed, but for now he needs to shine at free safety or he'll quickly be replaced. He showed off what he can do in the Liberty Bowl making nine tackles while taking a pick 37 yards for a touchdown in a key moment against East Carolina.
While he struggled early on and became a backup until late in the regular season, senior Ramon Broadway should be the team's No. 1 corner. At 5-9 and 191 pounds, he's not tall but he's strong and physical. A great tackler, he followed up a 52-stop season with 55 tackles and two tackles for loss. However, he didn't pick off any passes and he only broke up four passes as he struggled way too much against the better receivers. A big time prospect out of high school, he was a top special teamer early on and he's not afraid to pop, but the team needs him to be a playmaker when the ball is in the air.
Sophomore Darius Winston was a mega-recruit last year who showed promise right away even though he only made six tackles in four games of experience. Very physical, very talented, and very, very fast, the 6-0, 180-pounder will get a long look at a starting corner spot with the potential to be the team's top cover-corner from the start. The prep hype was so immense that anything other than an All-SEC honor at some point in his career will be a major disappointment.
5-11, 185-pound junior Projected Top Reserves: Isaac Madison was about to blossom into a starting corner role going into last year after making 38 tackles with a pick and seven broken up passes in 2008, but he suffered a torn ACL and missed the entire season. On the plus side, it happened early enough to allow him a full year to get back, and now his left knee is stronger than ever and he's getting his chances to take over a spot.
Junior Elton Ford made 42 tackles as a freshman, but his ultra-promising first season was cut short by a scary neck injury. He was able to come back last year and was as good as new starting eight games and finishing fifth on the team making 65 tackles. At 6-0 and 215 pounds he's a good-sized free safety and a great tackler, and now he'll be a part of a rotation while also being used as a fifth defensive back from time to time just to get him on the field.
If 6-7, 205-pound redshirt freshman Jerry Mitchell isn't the tallest safety in college football, he's probably a close second. Not just tall, he's really, really fast with former high school star sprinter's wheels. With his interesting blend of skills, he'll try to find a role somewhere in a crowded secondary.
Watch Out For … the safety situation. With so much movement consistency should be a bit of a problem early on, but if the idea is to get the four best defensive backs on the field, the coaching staff is doing it. However, the spotlight will be on Crim and Thomas right away and things will quickly switch around if they don't produce.
Strength: Versatility. The corner situation is so solid that Crim can move to safety and the production might be far better. The safeties are virtually interchangeable, and the coaching staff can get creative with the nickel and dime packages depending on the game.
Weakness: Production. The defensive backs have been a bit soft over the last few years, and last season was no exception with five teams throwing for 325 yards or more and with most teams that didn't bomb away spending most of their time running the ball. The Hogs came up with seven of their 13 picks against non-BCS teams.
Outlook: There's plenty of speed, versatility, and experience to hope for a major improvement, but after finishing last in the SEC in pass efficiency defense two years in row, and last in yards allowed in 2009, there's plenty of room to grow. The right combination has to be found, and the Hogs will get two tune-up games against Tennessee Tech and ULM to do it.
Unit Rating: 6
Senior Projected Starters: Alex Tejada was a tremendous recruit for the program in 2007, and he started off hit hitting 17-of-23 field goals as a true freshman. After a disastrous sophomore season, hitting 4-of-9 attempts missing everything from beyond 30 yards, he bounced back to connect on 16-of 22 kicks. However nine of his made kicks were from under 30 yards. He has been too inconsistent and hasn't showed much range, but he connected on kicks of 47, 35, and 40 against LSU. If he's not great, he could quickly be replaced by one of the top new recruits.
The punting game struggled last year finishing last in the SEC, and now it'll be up to sophomore Dylan Breeding to do far more. While he has a big leg and plenty of upside, he only averaged 38.7 yards per kick. However, he forced 15 fair catches and put 14 inside the 20, but the net average has to be far better.
Watch Out For … the punt return situation. Jerell Norton averaged just 8.6 yards per try and the team was mediocre overall. Several players will get a shot at the job with the need for someone to provide more pop.
Strength: Dennis Johnson. If the burgeoning star running back keeps his kick return job, the Hogs have a weapon. The speedster averaged 25.8 yards per try and helped the Hogs finish fourth in the league with a team average of 23.76 yards per pop.
Weakness: Net punting. The coverage teams could use some work, too, but it's the punting game that will get the most attention. Breeding isn't bad, but he needs to get more blast on the boots to get the average up over 40 yards per pop.
Outlook: The Hog special teams have to be better. There were two missed field goals in a three-point loss to Florida, a makeable missed kick in the three-point loss to LSU, and too many field position issues. There are enough veterans returning to hope for a turnaround, but the experience has to equal more production.
Unit Rating: 5.5
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2010 Arkansas Defense |
Arkansas Depth Chart
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