It’s not all about bulk on defensive line

By: Nate Allen
Published: Monday, April 21, 2014
Arkansas defensive tackle Darius Philon runs drills during practice Thursday, April 10, 2014, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Michael Woods
Arkansas defensive tackle Darius Philon runs drills during practice Thursday, April 10, 2014, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE - Last year’s Arkansas Razorbacks football media guide listed defensive tackle Darius Philon at 6-3, 295.

His actual playing weight was in the 280s, about what he weighs now. As it turned out, Philon played as well or better and proved more durable during his redshirt freshman season than the two 300-pound plus seniors who started ahead of him early before they ended up injured.

Injuries can happen to anyone in football regardless of size. And no SEC lineman can make it as a wisp.

But unless it’s a situation where bulk is needed to stop a fourth-and-1 plunge, there is a premium for defensive linemen with quickness and stamina in the SEC rather than girth.

So, lean times loom this summer for defensive tackle DeMarcus Hodge, and Arkansas’ head coach, Bret Bielema, too.

Hodge, a fourth-year junior who was a backup tackle last year, is listed 6-1, 343, and is a difficult load for offensive linemen to budge on the goal line.

But it’s difficult to see Hodge, at 343, lasting down after down as the starting tackle next to Philon in the heat you would expect for the Aug. 30 season opener against the reigning SEC champion Tigers at Auburn, Ala..

“Yeah, I think Hodge needs to lose weight,” Bielema said after Saturday’s practice. “I think he and I together need to have that as our offseason objective. He is a guy that I think is extremely powerful. He has a great presence in the run game. He’s just got to become more sudden for more plays.”

First-year defensive line coach Rory Segrest said seeing more of Hodge against Auburn could depend on seeing less of Hodge when the Hogs report in August.

“The main thing is him being able to give us more reps,” Segrest said. “Any time you are a heavy guy you are going to get winded a little quicker. So we want him to cut a little bit of weight to give us more reps.”

Then, there is sophomore Taiwan Johnson, Hodge’s backup at defensive tackle, who seems downright thin at 6-3, 263.

But Johnson’s impact inside is pulling weight with Arkansas’ coaches and the respected ex-coaches who have visited Arkansas practices and provided input.

“I think Taiwan Johnson brings us something inside that’s a little bit unique,” Bielema said. “It’s not the size or the girth, but he’s a very explosive player. As visitors have come to practice that I really respect and appreciate, they keep talking about how 94 keeps showing up.”

Regardless of whether Hodge shows up slimmer and Johnson shows up a little thicker, the Razorbacks need interior defensive line depth.

Incoming freshman Bijhon Jackson, 6-2, 320, of El Dorado, is one of the top prizes in the 2014 recruiting class, and there is Armon Watts, long and lean at 6-5, 250, who faces the challenge of bulking up during the summer.

“We have two defensive tackles that we think might be able to come in and help us immediately,” Bielema said “It’s going to be fun to see that pan out.”

Sports, Pages 16 on 04/21/2014