PB graduate goes from walk-on to key cog in UA defense.
FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas safety Simeon Blair has stairstepped his way up the ranks with the Razorbacks and now aspires to standout status in 2021.
The redshirt junior from Pine Bluff has elevated from walk-on to contributor to a two-game starter at boundary safety last season. He ranked 13th on the team with 23 tackles and added two pass breakups.
He’s aiming higher this season, and Coach Sam Pittman believes he can get there.
“He’s got a lot of confidence,” Pittman said after the Razorbacks’ second scrimmage of spring. “He’s always been a guy that will hit you.”
Blair, speaking last week, talked about honing in on technique and watching more film to help him advance.
“There’s only one way you can play defense,” Blair said. “You’ve got to play defense violent and fast, so I just try to keep that in mind every play, even if we’re in practice. I try to be in game mode, even in practice, because the way you practice is the way you’re going to play.”
Blair is a prime example of how defensive back play and depth is on the upswing with the Razorbacks under defensive coordinator Barry Odom and cornerbacks coach Sam Carter. Arkansas practiced its 3-2-6 look for the first half of spring drills, which is designed to combat the hurry-up Spread offenses that are proliferating around the country. Last week, the Hogs started implementing their 4-2-5 schemes to prepare for more run-heavy attacks.
Either way, defensive backs are going to heavily populate the Razorbacks’ defensive 11, and it appears a growing number of players are en route to earning playing time in the secondary.
“A whole lot deeper I feel, and a lot more effective this year,” sophomore safety Jalen Catalon said of the secondary. “Because everybody knows what they’re doing, and the young guys are starting to pick up on the defense at quicker paces.
“They’re starting to learn from us. We’re trying to set the standard for us on the back end, and I think they are starting to pick that up and you’re starting to see us progress as a whole.”
The Razorbacks hit the practice field today to start their final week of spring practice with an eye toward Saturday’s Red-White spring finale.
Practice No. 13 of the 15 allowed in spring will take place on the practice fields inside and out of the Walker Pavilion on what projects as a windy afternoon with a high temperature in the low 60s.
The practice will feature advanced individual competition, just like the rest, as offensive linemen and defensive linemen try to win one-on-one drills, and receivers and defensive backs will match up to win blocking and pass-catching reps, like in the perimeter drill
“That’s a pretty good drill,” Blair said. “It’s a drill where receivers work on blocking and we work on getting off blocks. So it’s a real good competition drill to get the practice started, get the blood flowing.”
Blair’s teammates have noted his increased devotion to film study and his long-standing effort to play physical.
“Oh, Simeon is a great player,” receiver Trey Knox said last week. “He will not hesitate to hit you. The boy’s smart. He reads his keys.
“I mean, he’s calling out plays just off of our alignment that we run and they’re jumping routes and they’re over there making plays. Simeon’s a great player.”
Catalon agreed when asked whether he’s been surprised by Blair’s improvement and the strong endorsement he got from Pittman.
“A lot of people that would see him from the outside would say so, but for me I’m not,” Catalon said. “Because I’ve seen him from behind the scenes and how much work he has put in in the film room and us doing drills together, and just seeing him progress and his hunger to get better each and every day.
“We’re kind of motivated the same. We just want to get better each and every day and are never satisfied. We watch film together all the time, look at what we can do to get better. Maybe do this or do that.
“I’m just proud of him stepping up in the back end and making plays. I’m glad to see he’s getting the recognition he deserves from coaches and from outside.”
Blair and Catalon — asked recently about depth-chart questions at middle safety, boundary safety and field safety when the Razorbacks are in their 3-2-6 look — both talked vaguely about the personnel decisions.
“In our defense, Coach Carter and Coach Odom do a big job on emphasizing you have to know the entire defense, especially when we play so many DBs,” Blair said. “You might get caught in some situations where the boundary safety might end up having to do the nickel’s job.
“We all move around, we all play different positions, and I feel like coach does that just in case something happens during the season or anything. We all know everybody’s position back there.”
Said Catalon, “Everybody knows what they’re doing. We’re able to move around. One day you may be playing middle safety in our safe DB package or you might play nickel or boundary safety. But everybody knows what to do, so it’s very versatile for us to move around and it’s easier for coaches to call certain coverages because we all know what to do.
“I think the younger guys are starting to pick that up too, and making the coaches’ jobs easier, as far as who to put in and who is going to step up. So the back end for sure is making a lot of progress.”