Arkansas getting physical, starting with the defense’s front four

Bret Bielema inherits statistically one of the worst defenses in the SEC. Arkansas finished 12th in total defense in league play and 74th best in college football in 2012. One of the worst secondaries in the country overshadowed a very respectable front four that gradually improved throughout last season.

Bielema’s emphasis this spring is physicality and toughness, and returning four underrated players on the defense’s most important unit bodes well for a marked improvement and smoother transition.

The Hogs return unheralded defensive ends Trey Flowers and Chris Smith, and stout tackles Robert Thomas and Bryan Jones, to give them – on paper – one of the strongest and most experienced groups of anyone in the league.

Smith and Flowers combined for 26 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks just last season, while Thomas and Jones combine for 632 pounds of mass clogging running lanes. Both Smith and Flowers are top five known commodities at defensive end, and Jones and Thomas are both top 10 caliber tackles, too.

But the Hogs’ ability to stop the run won’t even matter if the secondary can’t bust a grape. They allowed an SEC-worst 285.8 yards per game through the air. That’s one aspect Bielema must show marked improvement this season.

Bielema’s goal this spring is not only to make the team buy into his persona, leadership and system, but also to transform a soft team into becoming a physical nightmare along the trenches.

“I want to play a physical style of football and it starts (Saturday),” Bielema said.

And Arkansas’ defensive line was impressive in Saturday’s scrimmage, led by their physicality and tenacity, which accounted for a handful of sacks.

Winning and defensive line play is synonymous in the SEC. And while Bielema receives an overall weaker defense, his veteran front four should help with a smoother transition and increased productivity.

Wisconsin finished in the top six in the Big Ten the last five years stopping the run and finished top three in overall defense the last three seasons. I’ve said from the beginning – Bielema’s biggest impact will show on defense immediately this season.

Photo Credit: Spruce Derden–USA TODAY Sports