D-Line rotation as new as scheme
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.”
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.
is the lone returning starter on the Arkansas defensive line in 2017.