Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
ARKANSAS FOOTBALL safeties:
Gaines, Turner connect
Playing as tandem produces chemistry
Arkansas defensive back Rohan Gaines runs drills during practice Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas free safety Rohan Gaines said he can feel the difference when he makes contact in fall camp.
"I know right now if I hit someone, they'll feel it more than I will," Gaines said. "It was the opposite last year."
Gaines, a redshirt junior from Bainbridge, Ga., gained 16 pounds over the summer to get up to 201 pounds.
"It was just a personal thing I wanted to do," he said. "I felt like if I was bigger, I could be a better player."
Gaines wanted to bulk up after he was limited by injuries last season when he played at 185 pounds. He missed two games because of a knee injury and had five starts in 10 games with 33 tackles after having 75 tackles in 11 starts in 2012 while making a freshman All-America team.
"I've always had confidence in my abilities, but it's given me more confidence," Gaines of the added weight. "It's allowed me to just fly around and play football."
Defensive backs coach Clay Jennings can see the difference in Gaines from spring practice.
"There have been some plays that let me know with that added weight he's excited to go mix it up," Jennings said. "The biggest thing as far as going to make a tackle is the willingness to bite, and I think he's possessing that right now."
Defensive coordinator Robb Smith praised Gaines for taking good care of himself physically and working with strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert to maintain his weight.
"That's all going to pay dividends, because it's a long, hard SEC season," Smith said. "To stay on top of it right now and carry it on through is going to be a positive for us."
Gaines and strong safety Alan Turner give the Razorbacks experience for their last line of defense.
Turner, a fifth-year senior from Junction City, started every game and led the team with 97 tackles. He's a defensive captain along with senior end Trey Flowers.
Jennings said having Turner lead the secondary is like having an insurance policy you can depend on in tough times.
"Alan has been the epitome of a team player since I've been here," said Jennings, who came to Arkansas from TCU in February. "I believe right now he's the glue that's going to hold that group together this year."
Jennings said the Razorbacks are building depth at the safety positions with redshirt junior Davyon "Sleepy" McKinney, redshirt freshman DeAndre Coley and true freshman Josh Liddell.
McKinney has been working at both safety spots with Coley and Liddell backing up at free safety.
"Sleepy's doing a great job as far as learning the scheme and helping bring a couple of those young guys along," Jennings said.
Coley is becoming more consistent in practice while trying to bring a physical presence with big hits.
"I think he's gained a sense of urgency," Smith said. "You've got to be on your A game back there.
"Our safeties are required to make a lot of calls, a lot of checks, and he's really kind of embraced that role. He's not letting things happen, but he's anticipating and staying on top of things."
Jennings likes Coley's physical presence.
"DeAndre carries his pads very well," Jennings said. "He just has to be able to know the scheme so he can control the passing and running lanes back there.
"But as far as the physical nature of the game, it's like he's shot out of a cannon. I mean, there's going to be something flying somewhere."
Liddell has gotten a few first-team reps in practice and Jennings said he expects him to play this season, especially against teams that run hurry-up offenses.
"I think Josh has a chance to help us on special teams, but also has a chance to help us defensively too," Jennings said. "You start looking at the offenses in college football and some of those guys are averaging 75, 85 plays.
"It's tough to ask a guy to go out there and empty his tank for 85 plays, plus another 10 to 15 plays on special teams."
Jennings said he likes how Gaines and Turner work together on the field.
"I think if some of those young guys can pattern themselves after Rohan and Alan, they're going to be OK," Jennings said.
Gaines said sometimes he and Turner communicate by talking to each other, sometimes with hand signals.
"Just to let each other know what to do and when to do it," Gaines said. "It's just something that comes from being comfortable with each other. We've played a lot of ball together."
Sports on 08/18/2014