With an injury slowing Arkansas defensive tackle Isaiah Nichols for much of the spring, Taurean Carter is taking advantage.
FAYETTEVILLE — Taurean Carter is moving on up this spring for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
An ankle injury to returning starter Isaiah Nichols at defensive tackle has slowed the Springdale junior much of the spring, and Carter has gotten plenty of work on the first unit for the University of Arkansas defense.
Coach Sam Pittman, asked on Wednesday who has surprised him this spring, brought up Carter first.
“Taurean Carter’s had a really good spring,” Pittman said, “along with Zach Williams, who is at 265 now. “The D-line has surprised me. They’re playing better ball than possibly what I might have thought.”
The 6-3, 298-pound redshirt sophomore saw action behind Jonathan Marshall and Nichols in eight games last season and notched 11 tackles and a pass breakup. When covid-19 decimated the Hogs’ front for the LSU game late in the season, Carter got a start and held up well against the Tigers.
“Looking at the amount of plays that I had and the stats I was able to come up with at the end of the year, I feel like I’m fit for this conference and I’m able to compete,” Carter said. “I just have little things I’ve got to work on, such as finishing. Finishing to the quarterback. Putting effort here and there.”
Pittman toured by the individual drills for the defensive line in Thursday’s 14th practice of spring and singled Carter out in front of his position mates and the media.
“That’s why you’re getting better, you’re straining more,” Pittman said, noting Carter’s position with Nichols and Eric Gregory near the front of the drill line.
“I like where you are in the line, too,” Pittman said. “That’s where you belong.”
Carter grinned when asked how Pittman and new defensive line coach Jermial Ashley have encouraged him.
“They’ve been pushing me a lot,” Carter said. “They are the reason why I’ve gotten a whole lot better. They just put me through obstacles, adversity, and try to get me to push through it. I keep bringing my all every day.”
Carter would like to join his prep teammate at Mansfield (Texas) Legacy High, sophomore safety Jalen Catalon, as an SEC impact player the way Catalon did in 2020.
“We’ve been there, done that,” Carter said. “We’re just trying to bring what we had here and make a difference in the defense and get some dubs.”
Carter said he and center Ricky Stromberg have been engaged in a quality competition over the ball this spring, whether the Razorbacks are in full pads, light pads or helmets and shorts.
“To me, Ricky is the best center I’ve ever went against,” Carter said. “I don’t tell him that, but yeah he’s the best center I ever went against. He uses his body so well.
“Like, he’ll let you do what he wants you to do and he’ll just seal you off so the play can come right there. It’s just the way he blocks and uses his body. And he can get physical sometimes too. I try to bring that out of him, try to get in his head.”
Stromberg agreed that he and Carter have had some epic battles.
“TC’s been a great player,” Stromberg said. “Me and him have been competing really well against each other every day. We go back and forth with words sometimes, but that’s just because we’re playing hard with each other. He’s been great up front. He’s been leading those guys pretty well and he’s been doing really good.”
Stromberg said Carter’s use of his hands, a big Ashley focal point, has been noticeable.
“He’s able to grab my hands sometimes,” Stromberg said. “Sometimes I shoot my hands and he grabs them. Not a lot of D-lineman I have played have been able to do that. He uses his hands really well. … That’s a big thing for a defensive lineman.”
Said Carter, “I try to slow my processes down and think about bringing my hands to the fight. Because every time I come off the ball I think of it as a fight. But I’m still working on it. I’m not where I want to be but I continue to work on it.”
Carter said the extended playing time against LSU was very beneficial during his redshirt freshman season.
“It helped me a lot,” he said. “It helped me feel where I was at. It’s a lot of things in the game of football that I picked up that day, and I’m glad they happened the way they did. I know what that’s like so I’m trying to get adjusted now.”
The defense has been winning a lot of the team period work available to the media, to the point Pittman called out on Thursday that the unit needed to get in gear.
However, Carter spoke with great appreciation for what he’s seen out of an offensive front that returns five starters and is trying to fast-track its physicality to improve on 2020.
“Those guys, I’m not going to lie, it’s tough,” Carter said. “I played against almost everybody in the SEC except for Ole Miss, but them guys, it’s hard. They get to scheming up. They get in there tight.
“It’s hard to get through the cracks with those big bodies. They communicate so well. That’s the frustrating part. You try to single them out, but they’re all so packed together. They have a bond. It’s hard. That’s what makes practice so much fun. If you can get through that, shoot, you’ve got it.”
Carter, listed at 300 pounds on the spring roster, said he’d like to be just a little lighter to improve his quickness.
“But where I’m at right now,” he said. “I like it. I’m able to stay stout. I’m not where I want to be quickness wise, but that’s what the summer is for. I’m going to get there.”