Published July 16, 2012 - 4:15pm
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Arkansas’ secondary must get better in 2012.
That’s pretty much the consensus around the Natural State when conversations turn to Razorback football. Most fans know the Hogs will have a potent offense, plenty of size and depth on the D-Line, and the linebackers will be better.
But the secondary hasn’t been able to bust a grape since 2006. That’s when former Hog(s) Chris Houston and Matterral Richardson roamed the back half of the defense.
The surprise of 2011 was true freshman Tevin Mitchel (6’0″ 185 lbs.) out of Mansfield, TX. The sophomore-to-be came on to provide solid play for Arkansas, and he ended up starting nine games. His pass coverage was solid for a freshman, and he wasn’t afraid to lay a lick on the ballcarrier in a one-on-one situation.
Opposite Mitchel will be former 5-star recruit Darius Winston (6’0″ 191 lbs.) out of West Helena, AR. Winston has not lived up to his recruiting ranking, but nonetheless he gets his senior season to make up for it. His blazing speed (4.33) helps him make up for any mistakes. Darius will need to become the lock-down corner he was suppose to be coming out of high school.
Behind Mitchell and Winston, look for the following players to get plenty of playing time: redshirt freshman Kelvin Fisher, Jr (5’11″ 190 lbs.) from Queen Creek, AZ., former walk-on Kaelon Kelleybrew (5’11″ 180 lbs.) a senior out of Little Rock who transferred from Mississippi Valley State, and redshirt freshman Davyon McKinney (6’3″ 190 lbs.), a converted receiver from Forrest City.
In keeping with good recruiting practices, the Hogs did sign three corners in their 2012 class who should be able to come in and provide more depth and speed for the secondary. Will Hines (6’1″ 180 lbs.), who flipped from Missouri to Arkansas just a couple of weeks before signing day, is from Waco, TX. Jared Collins (6’0″ 175 lbs.) is a speedster out of Tulsa, OK. The Razorback coaching staff also dipped into Georgia to sign Ray Buchanon, Jr (5’11″ 180 lbs.) out of Suwanee. Ray’s father played in the NFL.
Both starting safeties are interchangable at either position (SS or FS). Junior Eric Bennett (6’0″ 206 lbs.) from Tulsa made loads of plays for the Hogs in 2011, and he will be the starter at free safety. Opposite Bennett, senior Ross Rasner (6’0″ 212 lbs.) will finally get his chance to shine. The last three years he has backed up departed defender Jerico Nelson. Rasner will split his time between strong safety and linebacker in nickel coverages.
When Rasner moves up to linebacker, senior Jerry Mitchell (6’1″ 219 lbs.) from Mandeville, LA. will step in. Behind Mitchell is Alan Turner (6’0″ 212 lbs.) a sophomore from Junction City, AR., and redshirt freshman Rohan Gaines (5’11″ 190 lbs.) out of Bainbridge, GA.
Backing up Bennett at free safety will be Turner and sophomore Houston Pruitt (5’11″ 192 lbs.) from Springdale. I would not be shocked if incoming true freshman Defonta Lowe (6’3″ 190 lbs.) from Bearden, AR. was called upon to provide some quality depth. Also, look for Davyon McKinney to get some playing time at safety as well.
If Arkansas’ defense is going to do their part in helping the Hogs march on to Atlanta for a date in the SEC Championship, this group must step up, provide some big plays and show some marked improvement. Speed abounds, but quality depth and experience are scarce.
This secondary can get some help from the defensive line and linebackers if Arkansas is better at defending the run and can get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. We’ll find out if defensive coordinator Paul Haynes’ schemes are an improvement once the Razorbacks take the field on September 1st.
Next, in the final Arkansas Breakdown, we’ll take a look at the special teams.