Most coaches would tell you that the key to a good defense starts with solid play and depth on the line. For Arkansas, solid play and effort haven’t really been a problem for the most part, over the last couple of seasons. Depth and size, however, has been seriously lacking.
In fact, the last time the Hogs had good depth and size along the defensive front was 2006, which is also the last time they won the SEC West Division championship. That Line was anchored by DE Jamaal Anderson, who was drafted in the first round of the “07 NFL draft.
For the first time in Head Coach Bobby Petrino’s tenure at Arkansas, the Hogs not only have some difference makers on the D-Line, they have loads of depth, to the tune of three-deep at each position, and SEC size on the interior. Defensive Coordinator Willy Robinson has praised the Line almost every day after practice. Tackles Coach Bobby Allen and Ends Coach Steve Caldwell finally have an opportunity to mix and match players, and all three coaches have expressed excitement over the possibilities of this season‘s crop of Trench Hogs (which is what the D-Linemen have begun calling themselves).
The defensive tackles and noseguards are big, quick, strong, and will be looking to provide that all important run-stuffing ability that defenses in the SEC must have.
Sophomore Byran Jones (6’2” 312 lbs.) is locked in at noseguard after starting a number of games in 2010 as a true freshman. He possesses the power to make a difference in the middle for the Hogs. Behind Jones is Jr. Alfred Davis (6’1”326 lbs.), who has some starting experience, and Sr. Lavunce Askew (6’3” 295 lbs.).
The Tackle slot has seen a bit of an uprising in pre-season. Juco transfer Robert Thomas (6’3” 308 lbs.) has ousted last year’s starter Dequinta (D. D.) Jones (6’5” 307 lbs.) as the go-to guy at this position. Thomas has been regularly praised as the next great D-Lineman at Arkansas, by all of his coaches. D. D. isn’t going down without a fight, and has even been seen playing some defensive end in practice. That kind of competition will only make these guys better.
Sr. Zach Stadther (6’1” 295 lbs.) provides depth at tackle, after starting several games his freshman season in 2008. If D. D. Jones moves to end full-time, look for freshman DeMarcus Hodge (6’1” 301 lbs.) to step in and provide some depth as well.
Defensive end seems to be where most of the attention has been focused by fans and media this pre-season. A very large reason for that is Sr. Jake Bequette (6’5” 271 lbs.), pronounced “Beck-It“. Jake has been named to a number of pre-season All-SEC watch lists, and is Arkansas’ returning sack leader (7.0) from 2010.
Behind Jake is the aforementioned D. D. Jones, as well as a couple of freshmen in Lonnie Gosha (6’3” 270 lbs.) and Trey Flowers (6’4” 245 lbs. ). Opposite Bequette is Jr. Tenarius “Tank” Wright (6’2” 252 lbs.) as the other starting End. Wright bulked up after the end of the 2010 season, going from 238 lbs up to 252 lbs, yet he still has his quick first step off the ball. Behind Wright are Soph. Chris Smith (6’3” 251 lbs.) and Fr. Horace Arkadie (6’4” 274 lbs.).
The Razorbacks should enjoy having this much talent and depth at the vanguard of their defense this year. Stopping the run, filling the lanes, and occupying offensive linemen will allow Arkansas’ linebackers and defensive backs to make plays, and stifle opposing offenses into long 3rd downs, or turnovers.
With only one senior starter, and two senior back-ups for 2011, the Hogs will have a solid defensive front for the next few seasons, especially with new recruits signing every year. I have pegged Bequette to be an all-conference performer for the Hogs this season, but don’t be surprised if Robert Thomas blows onto the scene and is this year’s Nick Fairley. Thomas has the size, speed, athletic ability, and impressively quick first step to achieve notoriety within the conference.
When compared with the defensive fronts of Alabama and LSU, Arkansas’ would have to be ranked slightly behind those two. The main reason is previous on-the-field achievement. But I feel that by the end of the 2011 season, Arkansas will be recognized for their own outstanding on-the-field achievements, and the Tide and Bayou Bengals will have to make room at the top for the Trench Hogs.