Nothing given to ‘D’
Lack of accolades won’t deter Hogs
FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks were shut out on defense at SEC media days.
When the conference announced results of voting at SEC media days, the Razorbacks were represented on offense by first-team center Frank Ragnow and third-team quarterback Austin Allen, but they didn’t have one player selected on defense among 33 spots.
Arkansas inside linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves wasn’t surprised when he heard no Razorback made any of the three All-SEC teams on defense.
“Who played well enough last season?” Hargreaves said. “And who’s back?
“At the end of the day, you earn everything.”
The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville finished 75th nationally in total defense last season (426.8 yards per game), 85th in scoring defense (31.1 points) and 94th in rushing defense (205.5 yards).
On top of that, the Razorbacks lost three of their four leading tacklers in linebacker Brooks Ellis and defensive linemen Deatrich Wise and Jeremiah Ledbetter.
After last season’s struggles, defensive coordinator
Robb Smith moved on to Minnesota and Paul Rhoads — the former Iowa State head coach who was Arkansas’ defensive backs coach last season — got a promotion to the coordinator position.
Rhoads, overseeing the Razorbacks’ transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense, said he feels good about his players as a whole.
“I love our group,” said Rhoads, who previously was defensive coordinator at Auburn and Pittsburgh. “The fact that we don’t have any stars in that room doesn’t bother me, doesn’t concern me.
“Our kids understand that and they know they have to do it as a group. If this guy has to step up because this takes place, or three guys have to play this position to give us the best opportunity, that’s exactly what they’ll go out and do.”
Hargreaves said the Razorbacks will have a chance to prove they have All-SEC worthy players on defense when the season starts.
“It’s not about where you are right now, but let’s see where the season goes and how guys play,” he said. “Let that speak for what’s going to happen at the end of the season when they do actually say, ‘OK, these are the top guys in the SEC.’
“It’s all in front of us. There’s nobody that’s already there. It’s wide open, and I think we’ve got some guys that’ll emerge.”
The defense should be strengthened by the return of junior linebacker Dre Greenlaw and senior cornerback Kevin Richardson from injuries.
Greenlaw was a freshman All-American when he had 95 tackles. He was limited to seven games last season because of a foot injury and finished with 44 tackles. Richardson missed the rest of the season after suffering a pectoral injury in the opener against Louisiana Tech.
Razorbacks Coach Bret Bielema said that in addition to Greenlaw other players with All-SEC potential include defensive end McTelvin Agim, nose guard Bijhon Jackson, outside linebacker Randy Ramsey and cornerback Ryan Pulley.
“So there’s probably five, six guys and the rest you just kind of build around it,” Bielema said. “In this transition to a 3-4, guys playing new positions and a new way of doing things, I think to be kind of in that discovery mode isn’t a bad thing.”
Richardson, a former walkon and now a team captain, said the defense can feed off high-energy players such as Greenlaw, Pulley, Agim and junior free safety Santos Ramirez.
“Those guys, if they can motivate their position group alone, that’ll motivate us to play together as a defense,” Richardson said. “There’s no stars on this defense, but you’ve got people who can come together and play really good football.”
Outside linebackers coach Chad Walker was an assistant for the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons last season. His other coaching stops include LSU and Oklahoma.
“I’ve been coaching football at all levels, so I understand what it takes to play great defense,” Walker said. “It’s teamwork. So it’s guys playing fast, guys playing smart.
“Where you’re able to play so fast because you understand the call and you understand the situation and you’re consistent. If you do those things, you’ve got a chance for sure to play great defense.”
Razorbacks defensive line coach John Scott, a New York Jets assistant last season, said he doesn’t pay much attention to preseason polls.
“I don’t really get caught up in that, because here’s my thought: How many times have you seen preseason polls and guys they have picked one, two and three don’t even make it [onto postseason teams],” Scott said. “To me it’s about where you finish.
“The game isn’t played off of numbers, it’s played off of going out and doing it and putting in the hard work. I think we have a group of guys that really work hard, and if guys are doing their jobs and we’re having success on defense, those things will come to us.”
Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads (right) has overseen the Razorbacks’ transition to the 3-4 defense and said his group’s perceived lack of star power doesn’t concern him. “They know they have to do it as a group,” Rhoads said. “If this guy has to step up because this takes place, or three guys have to play this position to give us the best opportunity, that’s exactly what they’ll go out and do.”
Outside linebacker Randy Ramsey is one of several defensive players Coach Bret Bielema said has All-SEC potential.
Senior defensive lineman Bijhon Jackson (78) is one of Arkansas’ defensive players who have All-SEC potential, Razorbacks Coach Bret Bielema said.
New Arkansas defensive line coach John Scott said he doesn’t pay much attention to preseason polls. “To me it’s about where you finish,” said Scott, who was on the New York Jets staff last season.