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.
Razorbacks football report:
Segrest out as UA DL coach
NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Arkansas assistant coach Rory Segrest speaks to his defense Saturday, April 23, 2016, during the annual spring Red-White game in Razorback Stadium. Visit nwadg.com/photos to see more photographs from the game.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas defensive line coach Rory Segrest will not be retained for the 2017 season, Coach Bret Bielema confirmed in a statement Saturday.
The firing of Segrest and departure of former defensive coordinator Robb Smith will mean Bielema and new defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads will replace half of the coaches on defense as the Razorbacks transition to a 3-4 front next season.
Rhoads and linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves are the holdovers.
Segrest, hired away from Samford by Bielema for his second Arkansas staff in 2014, was offered a chance to return to the Philadelphia Eagles last year by rookie Coach Doug Pederson, but he elected to stay with the Razorbacks.
Arkansas ranked No. 94 in rushing defense in 2016, allowing 205.5 yards per game, and was No. 126 out of 128 FBS teams in allowing 5.91 yards per carry.
The Razorbacks brought back a veteran defensive line but did not excel at pressuring quarterbacks. Arkansas was tied for No. 8 in the SEC and No. 71 in the nation with 25 sacks, 1.92 per game.
Bielema said on national signing day that he and Rhoads had talked to several assistant coaching candidates on the road and on campus. The Razorbacks have openings at defensive line and in the secondary, where Rhoads coached last year.
At his signing day conversation with the media and again at his public events in Fayetteville and Little Rock on Thursday, Bret Bielema said he believes the Razorbacks are headed in the right direction, despite their second-half collapses in losses to Missouri and Virginia Tech to conclude the 2016 season.
"We made a little stat ... that showed the difference between my first 20 games and my last 20," Bielema said. "I know we've made progress."
The Razorbacks were 7-13 in Bielema's first 20 games, including a 3-9 debut in 2013. Arkansas is 13-7 in its past 20 games.
Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, speaking at the program's Signing Day on the Hill event in Springdale on Thursday, said he's eager to add the 13 defensive signees into the fold.
"We do have a great defensive class, in the secondary especially," Rhoads said. "We brought in a lot of numbers in that group, guys that -- as Coach Bielema talked about -- have a lot of versatility.
"We have guys who can be corners, nickel backs or safeties. We're corner heavy, and that's what you like to have, with the athleticism and the ability to cover."
Mix it up
Offensive coordinator Dan Enos, in an interview with emcee Chuck Barrett at Signing Day on the Hill, made sure to tout the team's current talent while also delving into the new signees.
"I think we added some great pieces," Enos said. "To add those two junior college wideouts [Brandon Martin and Jonathan Nance] where we lost a lot of production, I'm very excited.
"When you have your quarterback coming back. When you sign the No. 1 junior college tight end [Jeremy Patton] and the No. 1 junior college wide receiver [Martin] in that class to add to the pieces we've got coming back. We've got the leading rusher in the SEC coming back. We've got six offensive linemen who have started games. You return Jared Cornelius at wideout, who made a bunch of plays for us last year.
"The emergence of C.J. O'Grady last year. Austin Cantrell had a good year. I think we've got a lot of guys who can come in and help us.
Bret Bielema engaged in a detailed discussion when asked about the one remaining scholarship the Razorbacks have available in the current signing class.
"We have one more kid that we could sign in this initial class," Bielema said. "But we plan on bringing in an additional three or four more kids that could be put on scholarship as soon as the NCAA allows us to do that. It'll be either defensive linemen, maybe a linebacker, could be an offensive lineman."
Bielema said he had some earnest talks with the current roster to discuss the players' commitment to the program.
"One thing we warned these guys coming back, 'We're not going to do anything of torture or make this winter any more than it needs to be, but if you're not mentally and physically ready to work, don't come.' We've had a couple of kids fall by the wayside. So I actually had more than 25 scholarships to give, and we have to come up with some creative ways to make that happen."
Early enrollee Shane Clenin, a 6-6, 295-pound lineman from Festus, Mo., was asked on an in-house video played at the program's Signing Day on the Hill when he knew he would sign with the Razorbacks.
"The first time I came here I did," Clenin said. "They were going to make me the best person and man, on and off the field, as I could possibly be."
When Bret Bielema reached Clenin on his alphabetical rundown of the signing class, he remarked, "He said he knew as soon as he came here. I wish to hell he would have told us," he said as the crowd laughed.
Arkansas signed only two pure defensive linemen in the class, making it the most lightly repopulated position on the team based on percentage of players on the field.
The Razorbacks secured both defensive end David Porter, a 6-3, 240-pounder from Joe T. Robinson, and end Melvin Johnson, a 6-4, 246-pounder from Riverside (Calif.) City College late in the process.
Arkansas has decent returning numbers on its defensive front, with players such as McTelvin Agim, Bijhon Jackson, Austin Capps, T.J. Smith, Armon Watts, Daytrieon Dean and well-regarded redshirts Briston Guidry and Jonathan Marshall. The Razorbacks are losing a big batch of contributors on the front, such as seniors Taiwan Johnson, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Deatrich Wise and JaMichael Winston, and junior Tevin Beanum.
Bret Bielema said on national signing day that the program's 24-member class, plus three other players who will be put on scholarship at a later date, is in strong academic standing.
"We don't really have any academic guys that we're overly concerned about," he said. "Usually there's maybe three to four, five guys that we're going to hold our breath on and make sure they follow through with the semester.
"There's a couple of guys that just need to continue to get the grades they've been getting and shouldn't have any problem getting with us, both high school and junior college, in a reasonable time."
Sports on 02/05/2017
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