Noth­ing given to ‘D’

Lack of ac­co­lades won’t de­ter Hogs

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - BOB HOLT

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.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK

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.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK

Out­side line­backer Randy Ramsey is one of sev­eral de­fen­sive play­ers Coach Bret Bielema said has All-SEC po­ten­tial.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/J.T. WAMPLER

Se­nior de­fen­sive line­man Bi­jhon Jack­son (78) is one of Arkansas’ de­fen­sive play­ers who have All-SEC po­ten­tial, Ra­zor­backs Coach Bret Bielema said.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE

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.

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