Published July 9, 2012 - 8:47am
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It’s been eleven years since Arkansas has had a 1st Team All-SEC linebacker. The last one was Jermaine Petty in 2001. Petty was even named to at least one All-American team that year. He was also credited with making the game-winning tackle on a Rebel two-point try, versus an Eli Manning-led Ole Miss squad in that seven-overtime epic in Oxford, securing a 58-56 victory for the Hogs.
But Arkansas hasn’t been without some very good linebackers over the past decade. However, none of them have played at a 1st Team SEC level. Former Hog Jerry Franklin led Arkansas in tackles each of the previous four seasons, and he will be noticeably missed. But even Franklin never had the type of year that was able to propel him into the upper echelon of SEC playmakers at LB. That may change in 2012.
Tenarius “Tank” Wright (6’2″ 252 lbs) has played defensive end for the past three years at Arkansas, after spending most of his high school career at LB. Tank will get the chance to shine at the position he has pined for over the last three seasons.
Defensive Coordinator Paul Haynes thinks the senior from Memphis has what it takes to be a difference maker at middle linebacker for the Razorbacks. With Tank’s size and lateral movement, he should be a true runner-stuffer in 2012.
Behind Wright, look for junior Robert Atiga (6’3″ 240 lbs) of West Valley, UT. or sophomore Tyler Gilbert (6’3″ 244 lbs) of Sorrento, LA.
At weak-side linebacker, the returning starter (and playmaker) will be senior Alonzo Highsmith (6’1″ 233 lbs) of Missouri City, TX. The WLB position is considered another inside spot, but Highsmith and his back-ups have the speed to cover plenty of ground in a hurry and arrive at the ball with a bad attitude.
Providing depth at WLB, look for senior Terrell Williams (6’3″ 232 lbs) of Tulsa, and sophomore Braylon Mitchell (6’3″ 232 lbs) of Heber Springs, AR. Mitchell is probably the most talented of these LBs, but he just doesn’t have enough experience yet. But that will come.
Moving over to the strong-side linebacker position (also called Rover), DC Haynes wants a hybrid-type player in the mold of former Ohio State starter Ross Homan.
As of the end of spring drills, it looks like senior Matt Marshall (6’1″ 230 lbs) of Camden, NJ. will be the starter. But this position is absolutely up for grabs. With three-year starter Jerico Nelson gone, Marshall is trying to fight off surges from junior Jarrett Lake (6’3″ 223 lbs) of Jenks, OK. and sophomore Daunte Carr (6’3″ 224 lbs) of Gainsville, GA.
Another player to look for at SLB, is senior Ross Rasner (6’0″ 212 lbs. 4.4) of Waco, TX. Rasner will move up to SLB from his strong safety spot, when Arkansas goes to a nickel defense
None of these projections are taking into consideration the three incoming freshmen LB’s, all of whom could find playing time this fall.
The headliner of Arkansas 2012 recruiting class is Otha Peters (6’1 1/2″ 225 lbs) of Covington, LA. This guy was a long-time commit to Tennessee, before flipping to the Hogs just a few days before the official Signing Day arrived. Peters looks game-ready right now, and he brings a load of talent to Arkansas’ linebacking corps. I’m still trying to figure out why LSU didn’t try to sign this former 4-star guy, especially since he was right in their backyard.
The other two signees are Vin Ascolese (6’2″ 220 lbs) of North Bergen, NJ., and A.J. Turner (6’3″ 215 lbs) of Lepanto, AR. Ascolese is a hard-hitting and overall underrated player. His game-speed is faster than his 40-time shows. Turner has led the state of Arkansas in total tackles the last two years, finishing with over 170 stops each season. He is a tackling machine and has a nose for the football.
With leadership coming from Wright and Highsmith, and speed to spare from the other linebackers (and finally some depth), look for this to be a position of major improvement for Arkansas in 2012.
In the next Arkansas Breakdown (Part 6 of 7), we will take a look at the defensive backs.
In case you missed the rest of the breakdowns, they are as follows: