D-Line ro­ta­tion as new as scheme

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - BOB HOLT

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas Ra­zor­backs de­fen­sive end T.J. Smith has gained 15 pounds since the spring, but he looks as fast as ever in prac­tice.

“T.J. is car­ry­ing the weight just fine,” de­fen­sive line coach John Scott said. “To be hon­est, you don’t see a dif­fer­ence in the way he was run­ning in the spring to the way he’s run­ning now. That’s a good thing.”

So how did Smith, a 6-3 red­shirt sopho­more, main­tain his speed while go­ing from 283 to 298 pounds?

Smith said the key was a diet and strength pro­gram that added weight to his lower body.

“With us fo­cus­ing on putting it in the legs and mak­ing it mus­cle, it helps,” Smith said. “When you see guys just start eat­ing a bunch of cheese­burg­ers and tacos, that’s when it be­comes bad weight.

“I’m mov­ing good and feel­ing good.”

Smith said he min­i­mizes his fast-food in­take.

“I’ve ac­tu­ally started do­ing a lot of cook­ing,” he said. “A lot of chicken, rice, stuff like that.”

Smith’s added weight and strength have helped him move into a start­ing role at de­fen­sive end af­ter he played in five games last sea­son.

“T.J. has taken a huge step,” se­nior nose guard Bi­jhon Jack­son said.

Scott, in his first sea­son at the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayetteville af­ter coach­ing in the NFL with the New York Jets, said he ap­pre­ci­ates Smith’s ap­proach in prac­tice.

“The thing I love about T.J. is he just does a re­ally good job of tak­ing what you put on the board and go­ing out and ap­ply­ing it on the field,” Scott said. “He’s a re­ally coach­able guy. He takes pride in that.”

Smith is among sev­eral de­fen­sive line­men the Ra­zor­backs need to play big­ger roles this sea­son af­ter the losses of Deatrich Wise, Jeremiah Led­bet­ter, Tai­wan John­son and JaMichael Win­ston.

Arkansas’ only de­fen­sive line­man with start­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is sopho­more end McTelvin “Sosa” Agim. He started the fi­nal five games last sea­son, played off the bench in eight games and fin­ished with 27 tack­les, in­clud­ing 5½ for losses to­tal­ing 23 yards.

“Sosa has to make plays for us,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Paul Rhoads said. “He’s a guy that’s ca­pa­ble of not only do­ing his job, but be­ing highly pro­duc­tive at it.

“There’s noth­ing more in the world that he wants to do than ex­actly that. I think he can get there. He’s not there yet and he knows that.

“I think there’s a dif­fer­ent level of ma­tu­rity with Sosa than he had a year ago, and that ex­cites me. I see lead­er­ship out of Sosa on a daily ba­sis right now.”

Jack­son played 38 games the pre­vi­ous three sea­sons, but he’s work­ing as a starter for the first time and nose guard is a new po­si­tion for him in the 3-4 scheme af­ter he played de­fen­sive tackle in the 4-3. He has 25 ca­reer tack­les, in­clud­ing 7 for losses of 40 yards.

“I think Bi­jhon is a lot more con­fi­dent in his role and in the de­fense, and you see him re­lax­ing and mak­ing plays,” Scott said. “He knows the tech­nique, and he knows what we want him to do.

“He’s much more com­fort­able this camp than when we first started in the spring.”

Jack­son said he likes play­ing nose guard now that he’s got­ten used to it.

“I’ve had a cou­ple of re­ally solid days,” he said. “I feel re­ally good about play­ing nose guard. I just feel some­times I can come off and make plays a lit­tle eas­ier than I could in the pre­vi­ous de­fense.”

Scott said Jack­son, the Ra­zor­backs’ only se­nior de­fen­sive line­man, is de­vel­op­ing into a leader.

“He’s kind of a quiet guy, but the guys grav­i­tate to him,” Scott said. “He does a great job off the field with those guys.”

Scott said Jack­son dis­played his lead­er­ship in cor­rect­ing a team­mate dur­ing a re­cent prac­tice.

“Be­fore I could get over there and say any­thing, Bi­jhon al­ready had told the player what he did wrong and what he needed to do,”

Scott said. “Hav­ing lead­er­ship like that is a plus.”

Rhoads and Scott said the Ra­zor­backs will need to count on sev­eral de­fen­sive line­men to ro­tate and keep fresh bod­ies on the field.

Back­ups who fig­ure to get play­ing time in­clude sopho­more nose guard Austin Capps, ju­nior end Ar­mon Watts, and red­shirt fresh­man ends Bris­ton Guidry and Jonathan Mar­shall.

“I know we don’t have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence in our room, but we’re mak­ing a lot of progress,” Jack­son said. “I feel re­ally good about ev­ery­body.”

Smith said he’s con­fi­dent the Ra­zor­backs have the depth to play sev­eral line­men with­out a drop-off.

“Some of the best de­fenses, they can sub guys in, and it’s over and over and over,” Smith said. “They beat you up. That’s what you want to be.”

Smith played in a 3-4 de­fense at Colquitt County High School in Moul­trie, Ga. He said it’s been a smooth tran­si­tion for him since the Ra­zor­backs made the switch in the spring.

“When­ever Coach Rhoads be­gan to in­stall it, I knew it,” Smith said. “It was just dif­fer­ent names for dif­fer­ent things, but it fits me. That’s my game.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette file photo

Arkansas sopho­more de­fen­sive end T.J. Smith (52), shown last sea­son against Texas State, has leaped from 283 pounds to 298 since the end of spring prac­tice while main­tain­ing his speed.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette file photo

is the lone re­turn­ing starter on the Arkansas de­fen­sive line in 2017.

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