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: Rhoads eager to get at it
Chuck Barrett (left) talks with Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, on the team's signing day results during the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Club Signing on the Hill event at the Holiday Inn & Convention Center in Springdale.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads told the crowd at Signing Day on the Hill on Thursday that the Razorbacks have a lot of work ahead to prepare for a move to the 3-4 defense and the start of 2017.
"We've got to get the playbook put together, and a staff put together.," Rhoads said. "And then we get with the kids. ... We've got to be diligent with what there is to be done."
Rhoads and Coach Bret Bielema have been talking to candidates to fill spots on the defensive staff. Defensive coordinator Robb Smith, defensive line coach Rory Segrest and graduate assistant Alfred Davis have all departed since Arkansas concluded its 7-6 season with a 35-24 loss to Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl.
Rhoads, who is taking over for Smith, will be looking for a defensive line coach to replace Segrest and a secondary coach. Rhoads coached defensive backs last season.
The defense's overall philosophy, Rhoads said, starts with stopping the run.
"You've got to get it done if you're going to play successful defense," he said. "And one of the ways to do that is commit the bodies. You've got to have bodies up at the line of scrimmage and that will be the first order of business."
Arkansas recruiting coordinator E.K. Franks said the football staff is evaluating as many as 3,000 prospects for the signing Class of 2018.
"We'll weed that down to like 300 kids, and then we'll offer about 300 kids, then we trim that down to 25 kids," Franks said at Signing Day on the Hill. "So, as you're going through that process, each step is a little different, as far as maybe a kid's interested in you, maybe you're not interested in the kid. Maybe a kid can get on campus and maybe a kid can't come visit. All of those become factors as you're weeding it down to the 25."
Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema told an anecdote to describe 6-9 offensive lineman Dalton Wagner, who has been on campus since classes resumed in January.
"I had a dental appointment up on the hill the other day and all these students were walking across," Bielema said. "It was 8 o'clock in the morning and a little chilly and I see everybody bundled up with ear muffs and gloves and the steam coming from their breath. And there's this happy human walking over everybody else and it was Wagner.
"He had a hoodie on that wasn't up and he had a pair of shorts and a pair of tennis shoes on, just kind of walking in his own world. I started laughing, just because he's so happy to be here. He's from Illinois, the Chicago area, so he thinks it's like the Bahamas here. We'll keep letting him think that."
Wagner, speaking on a video played at Signing Day on the Hill, was asked about meeting 6-10 Dan Skipper during recruiting.
"He's one of the very few people I've ever looked up to, in a literal sense," Wagner said.
A fan asked Bret Bielema whether there were redshirt freshmen ready to make their names known in 2017.
"I would say offensively, one guy who would jump out to all of us as coaches is Jordan Jones, a wide receiver from Smackover," Bielema said. "We almost played him a year ago. Didn't feel it was the right time, right place, so we redshirted him. He will be a guy who can do very specific things. He's very fast. He's very talented, very long. A player I think can help us in a big way."
Bielema pointed out several players on defense who should be in the mix after redshirting, including Briston Guidry and Jonathan Marshall on the line, and defensive backs Deon Edwards and Micahh Smith.
He also mentioned that players like tight end Cheyenne O'Grady of Fayetteville, who began to emerge late last season, are also dotted across the roster.
"A lot of times in our system ... people don't hear a lot about these guys their first, second or sometimes even their third year, then they come on like gangbusters, just because they finally got their opportunity and developed the right way."
Coach Bret Bielema, a member of the American Football Coaches Association board of trustees, predicted on national signing day that an early signing date is going to become reality next year.
"I think that is one avenue that it looks like by this time next year we'll be seeing that come through and it'll be an exciting time, a little bit of change for us as coaches, but I think a good thing for the student-athletes."
Bielema said he projected what a signing date after the regular season would have meant to Arkansas' newest class.
"I was really trying to look at that December time frame, who we would have signed at the time, versus waiting until now," he said. "It probably would have been in the ballpark, I'm sure, of 12 to 15, maybe 17 guys at max. And then all of those guys would have been put to bed, put to rest, and we just would have worked on the rest of the class."
Arkansas received faxes from its 14 immediate scholarship newcomers in 3 hours and 35 minutes Wednesday morning.
Based on a printout of the "by fax time" newcomers, defensive back Jordon Curtis kicked off national signing day by sending in his fax from Jenks, Okla., at 7:13 a.m. Kamren Curl, a defensive back from Muskogee, Okla., wrapped up the initial scholarship group at 10:48 a.m.
Arkansas will open the season in Little Rock in 2017 for the first time since 2009 when it hosts Florida A&M on Sept. 2 at War Memorial Stadium. The Razorbacks last kicked off the season in Little Rock with a 48-10 victory over Missouri State on Sept. 5, 2009.
Arkansas will play its SEC opener against Texas A&M on Sept. 23 in Arlington, Texas, as the home team. It will mark the Hogs' fourth conference opener against the Aggies in six seasons since the SEC added Texas A&M and Missouri in 2012. The Razorbacks opened conference play against Alabama in 2012 and at Auburn in the season opener of 2014. Arkansas is 0-3 in SEC openers against A&M.
Arkansas' SEC home games will be against Auburn on Oct. 21, Mississippi State on Nov. 18 and Missouri on Nov. 25, though the finale is likely to be moved up one day again. The Razorbacks will play one of their first six SEC games at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Arkansas will face Texas A&M (Sept. 23), South Carolina (Oct. 7) and Alabama (Oct 14) before the SEC home opener against Auburn the following week.
The Razorbacks have a less-than-ideal bye week (Sept. 16), which will come on the third playing date after the Florida A&M opener and the campus opener on Sept. 9 against TCU.
Sports on 02/06/2017
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