Green­law’s re­turn a spark to de­fense

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - BOB HOLT

FAYET­TEVILLE — It’s been a long wait for Dre Green­law, but the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs’ ju­nior line­backer is fi­nally ready to play full speed again.

Green­law, who was fully healthy for only five games last sea­son due to a right foot in­jury and then sat out spring prac­tice and was lim­ited the first two weeks of train­ing camp, is get­ting his first work in team pe­ri­ods this week.

“How is Dre do­ing?” in­side lineback­ers coach Vernon Har­g­reaves said. “Do you see me smil­ing? I like what he’s do­ing.

“See­ing him out there, he brings a flash to the de­fense. Stuff hap­pens. It gets you ex­cited. Hope­fully, he can keep his feet un­der­neath him and stay healthy.”

Green­law made 17 con­sec­u­tive starts be­fore break­ing his right foot against Alabama

last sea­son and un­der­go­ing surgery in Oc­to­ber. He re­turned for the Belk Bowl and started against Vir­ginia Tech, but rein­jured his foot and un­der­went a sec­ond surgery in Jan­uary.

“We haven’t got a lot out of Dre since the Alabama game so it’s fun to have him out there,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Paul Rhoads said. “The first day he was out there, there were 21 guys oper­at­ing at one speed and Dre oper­at­ing at his speed.

“His speed was pretty fast be­cause he is fast and plays the game quickly, and be­cause he had fresh legs, too.”

Green­law said Satur­day that he feels com­pletely re­cov­ered and has no is­sues with his foot.

“I’m pretty con­fi­dent I’m back to 100 per­cent phys­i­cally,” he said. “The coaches are be­ing a lit­tle cau­tious to make sure I’m healthy for the sea­son, but I feel ready to go. My foot feels great. No prob­lems at all.”

The Ra­zor­backs’ de­fense strug­gled with­out Green­law, es­pe­cially against the run. They fin­ished 75th na­tion­ally in to­tal de­fense (426.8 yards per game), 85th in scor­ing de­fense (31.1 points) and 94th in rush­ing de­fense (205.5 yards).

“It was real tough not be­ing able to be out there with my team­mates and en­joy the game and do what I love to do,” said Green­law, who had 44 tack­les last sea­son. “Then to play for a lit­tle bit and get hurt again in the bowl game made it even tougher. So I’m very hun­gry to play again. I can’t wait.”

Har­g­reaves said as good as it is to see Green­law mov­ing at full speed, the coach­ing staff will mon­i­tor his work care­fully in prac­tice to make sure he’s ready for the Aug. 31 sea­son opener against Florida A&M in Lit­tle Rock.

“I think Dre’s ready to go now, and he’s catch­ing up pretty quickly for the time he’s missed,” Har­g­reaves said. “But we still have to do a good job of man­ag­ing his reps to make sure we don’t put too much on him too soon.”

Green­law said he feels ready to play in the new 3-4 scheme thanks to ob­serv­ing so much in prac­tice.

“I think get­ting all those men­tal reps is go­ing to al­low me to play fast,” he said. “I al­ready know what I’m do­ing, so I’m ready to do it when I get on the field.”

Green­law had 95 tack­les as a true fresh­man in 2015 when he moved to line­backer af­ter play­ing safety for Fayet­teville High School.

“I think Dre would be the first one to tell you when he made those tack­les he didn’t nec­es­sar­ily know what was go­ing on,” Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said. “He just saw ball, got ball.”

Rhoads said get­ting more work in prac­tice will pay huge div­i­dends for Green­law be­cause he’s still rel­a­tively in­ex­pe­ri­enced as a line­backer.

“Ev­ery­body knows that Dre Green­law is a very ca­pa­ble play­maker,” Rhoads said. “We’re anx­ious to get him on the prac­tice field to make him a bet­ter line­backer. There’s a dif­fer­ence.”

Rhoads said Green­law, 6-0 and 229 pounds, has the ath­letic abil­ity of a de­fen­sive back in a line­backer’s body.

“I think he’s the type of player that can be out of po­si­tion and still make a play

just be­cause he’s that quick and strong and ag­ile,” Rhoads said. “You need a cou­ple of guys like that on the field to be a great de­fense.”

Sopho­more De’Jon “Scoota” Harris is set to start at mid­dle line­backer along­side Green­law.

Harris played off the bench in 12 games as a true fresh­man, get­ting in­creased work due to Green­law’s in­jury, and had 37 tack­les.

“Scoota may be the player that’s grown the most on our de­fense from the end of last sea­son to now,” Rhoads said. “He was with us all year, but he didn’t play a lot of snaps.

“You wouldn’t know that by how he car­ries him­self in prac­tices right now. You’d think this is a guy that played a lot of snaps for our de­fense last year. That’s very en­cour­ag­ing.”

Harris is re­plac­ing Brooks El­lis, who started 41 games and made 290 tack­les the pre­vi­ous four sea­sons and is now a rookie with the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots.

“I feel like I’m ready to be a starter,” Harris said. “Play­ing in some games last year has made me a lot calmer.”

Har­g­reaves said he likes Green­law and Harris as a start­ing tan­dem.

“They’re both ath­letic, they both run well,” Har­g­reaves said. “They have the tools that you’re look­ing for at that po­si­tion.”

Grant Mor­gan, a red­shirt fresh­man walk-on, has got­ten first-team reps at weak­side line­backer in Green­law’s ab­sence and also can play mid­dle line­backer. He had eight tack­les in Satur­day’s scrim­mage, in­clud­ing three for losses to­tal­ing 12 yards.

“Grant is just a tough, smart, hard-nosed player,” Rhoads said. “He’ll help us win whether it will be on de­fense or special teams.”

Red­shirt fresh­men Gio­vanni LaFrance and Dee Walker also are be­ing counted on to pro­vide depth.

LaFrance made 8 tack­les in the scrim­mage, in­clud­ing 3 for 6 yards in losses, when he got sec­ond-team reps af­ter Josh Harris went down with an in­jury.

“Gio’s hav­ing a good fall camp,” Green­law said. “He saw his op­por­tu­nity in the scrim­mage and he def­i­nitely got a lit­tle boost there. I think what the coaches want out of him is a lit­tle bit more con­sis­tency, but he’s get­ting there.”

Green­law said he’s con­fi­dent the back­ups will be ready to play when the sea­son starts.

“I think for the most part depth isn’t go­ing to be an issue for us any­more,” Green­law said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are catch­ing on and com­ing along and get­ting ready to help us win games.

“It’s go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing to see the type of roles these younger guys step into, but we’re go­ing to need them be­cause it’s a long sea­son.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK

Arkansas ju­nior line­backer Dre Green­law has his leg rubbed down be­tween drills dur­ing a re­cent prac­tice. Green­law broke his foot against Alabama last sea­son and had surgery in Oc­to­ber.

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