Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Spring Football Report:
Defense looks good after changes
Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads talks to players prior to a scrimmage April 8, 2017, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Adding wrinkles to its schemes brought happiness to the Arkansas Razorbacks' defense, which had a strong second scrimmage Saturday that featured better tackling and 12 "vicinity" sacks.
"Most definitely," defensive end Armon Watts said about the joy of a higher sack count. "Especially since we haven't even put in the whole playbook."
Most of the sacks came from second-teamers T.J. Smith and Briston Guidry, but the starters also had a pair against the first-team offense.
"It was really a lot of preparation," inside linebacker Josh Harris said. "We didn't feel that we met our expectations in that last scrimmage, but we progressed. We watched film and practiced harder last week and tried to come out stronger."
Coach Bret Bielema said the defensive play calls Saturday included four- and five-man pressures, sometimes from both sides.
"We have very few packages in right now, and to see what we can get off of just the basics is really exciting to see," outside linebacker Karl Roesler said. "Just seeing what a little bit of movement can do and just knowing what we're going to put in later is exciting."
Workout No. 10
The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville hit the two-thirds point of spring ball Tuesday with a practice in helmets and shorts. Even though the workout was not heavy from a contact standpoint, the players were sweaty for post-practice interviews.
"I think we still took a step forward," senior linebacker Karl Roesler said. "We put in a new play today. It was just a good learning day instead of a physical day. I think we needed it after Saturday. I think that was the longest scrimmage Coach B[ielema] is planning on having."
Left guard Hjalte Froholdt and defensive end Armon Watts squared off briefly during Saturday's scrimmage.
The two were separated after a couple of seconds of getting in each other's face about one-third of the way through the scrimmage.
"Me and Hjalte, he's pretty good," Watts said. "We have our battles every day. Sometimes I might get rowdy. I might get him, he might get me. So we both get frustrated. At the end of the day, he knows I'm good and I know he's good."
Outside linebacker Karl Roesler was involved in a blocking collision that fell into quarterback Austin Allen on Saturday, causing Allen to fall.
"Yeah, I was the guy," Roesler said smiling, describing the incident with guards Johnny Gibson and Hjalte Froholdt on both sides of him. "I think Johnny hit me on the left side and then Hjalte hit me kind of on the right, and we just hit Austin. I tried to hold up, but I got pushed into him.
Roesler said nobody was upset with him.
"Austin wasn't mad," he said. "He knew what happened because Hjalte was just on top of us as well."
Tight end Austin Cantrell, who showed up on the injury report Saturday for taking a hit on his knee, said Tuesday he's fine.
"It's nothing at all," he said. "Just twisted it a little bit. Nothing serious. It didn't bother me at all today."
Stay in base
Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said the switch to primarily a 3-4 defense should offer the Razorbacks more opportunities to stay in their base looks.
Arkansas was listed as having a base 4-3 the past couple of seasons, but in reality the Hogs played more 4-2-5 with nickel backs Henre Toliver and Kevin Richardson on the field more often than a third linebacker.
"We'll probably play more [base] than we have in the past," Rhoads said. "I think part of that is what you're asking those guys to do. If you're asking a linebacker to go out there and play man coverage in space against the skill in this league, you're probably not very smart. If you're asking him to go out there and play an area and maybe play the run game on the edge, I think you can get away with that."
Nickel back Kevin Richardson's sack on a blitz around the right edge of the defense was indicative of the varied angles the Razorbacks were taking from different positions Saturday.
"It helped everybody on defense and it puts the offense on alarm that they are not able to predict where guys are coming from, the fourth rusher, let alone the fifth rusher," Coach Bret Bielema said. "K-Rich, we feel really good about and obviously at that nickel spot does some good things and he's a very explosive player."
Sophomore tight end Austin Cantrell might have the thickest beard on the team. The 6-4, 272-pounder from Roland, Okla., has more hair on his chin than on top of his head.
"I actually shaved it the day before -- like completely -- the day before the Ole Miss game," Cantrell said, referencing Oct. 14, the eve of Arkansas' 34-30 victory over the Rebels. "I've done a little bit of trimming, but nothing major since then."
Offensive line coach Kurt Anderson has trimmed his Fu Manchu mustache.
"I took the handle bar part off and went with a more distinguished British gentleman style," Anderson said. "I feel like I should have one of those little hats like I'm doing the night watch for the Queen."
Among the legislation approved by the NCAA's Division I council last week was an early signing period in December, which would come with an additional period for official visits beginning April 1 of the junior year for prospects.
"I'm all for it," offensive coordinator Dan Enos said last week. "I think the early signing period is something I feel strongly about and a lot of coaches do."
Sports on 04/19/2017
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