Razorback roundtable: Defensive line

By: Jimmy Carter , Clay Henry , Bob Holt , Matt Jones
Published: Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Arkansas defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson goes through warmups prior to a scrimmage Saturday, April 15, 2017, in Fayetteville.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
Arkansas defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson goes through warmups prior to a scrimmage Saturday, April 15, 2017, in Fayetteville.

— Four questions for four writers previewing Arkansas' defensive line.

True or false: Sosa Agim will garner All-SEC recognition following the season.

Clay Henry: Agim is capable of producing an All-SEC season, but so much of postseason honors is partly based on team success. The SEC has long been known as producing the top defensive ends in the country. You can be in the top 10 in the country and not be in the top four in the SEC. So that's a tough question. I'd say Agim will be an All-SEC player at some point in his Arkansas career, but it might be as a junior, not as a sophomore.

Previous position previews

July 19: Quarterbacks

Jimmy Carter: True. Agim is a stud and will be an impact player after an impressive freshman season. The SEC is loaded on the defensive line, but I think he’ll have a big sophomore campaign.

Bob Holt: True, if you're talking second-team honors. Agim's talent combined with the experience he got last year, when he started the final five games, should set him up for a big sophomore season and I think he'll do well in the 3-4 defense. He certainly seemed to take to the scheme change well in the spring.

But the SEC is loaded with future NFL defensive linemen, and the top ones have more experience than Agim and some play for teams that could challenge for the national championship. Media and coaches tend to vote for players from the best teams, so unless Arkansas is able to win 9 or 10 games, All-SEC status for the Razorbacks could be impacted.

Matt Jones: I don't think there is any doubt he has the potential to be an All-SEC player, but the defensive line is where the SEC sets itself apart from other conferences. He'll have stiff competition.

Is the combination of Austin Capps and Bijhon Jackson good enough at the nose?

Henry: It's a key part to the conversion to the 3-4, will the Hogs have good play at the nose. Jackson had a good finish to the spring, producing some hope that this spot would be a plus, not a negative in the transition to the new scheme. Jackson has not shown to be consistent enough in his first three years at Arkansas. He has been inconsistent because of a weight issue. Capps is a brilliant young talent, highly regarded in recruiting. Perhaps they can do it as a rotation, but there wasn't enough evidence in the spring to say that great nose tackle play can be expected this season.

Carter: Only time will tell, but it isn't a surety. Jackson was a major recruit and hasn’t lived up to that billing to this point. But he was more svelte in the spring than he has been at any point in his career, which showed up in his play especially later in spring ball. Capps has good strength and showed promise as a freshman. Neither have been impact players in the SEC to this point and the nose in the 3-4 is such a key position you can’t help but be a little concerned.

Holt: I think those two should be a pretty good 1-2 punch.

Jones: I think so. I'm not sure the 3-4 fits the strengths of all of the defensive personnel on campus, but I think it does fit the strengths of those two, who are two of the strongest on the team. Jackson said he particularly likes the scheme because it allows him to attack more and think less than he had to in the gap-control 4-3.

Who starts opposite Agim at DE?

Henry: It may not be one person. There may be a rotation from week to week, especially early. Briston Guidry, Armon Watts, Michael Taylor and T.J. Smith all will get a shot at that position. However, the surprise winner might be Gabe Richardson, the JUCO transfer.

Carter: T.J. Smith stood out to me in spring practice. He was consistently disruptive during scrimmages and was working with the ones in the final practice. Michael Taylor, Armon Watts and Briston Guidry will be in the mix, too. Not a lot of experience here, so this is probably one of the bigger question marks on the defense.

Holt: Michael Taylor seems to be the logical choice. The coaches have raved about his pass-rushing skills.

Jones: My old basketball coach used to say, "It's not about who starts, but about who finishes." That always comes to mind when talking about positions where players rotate. Based on coaches' observations, I'd guess Michael Taylor gets to finish games, regardless of whether he starts them.

Will this line be better than last year’s version? Why or why not?

Henry: That was perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the 2016 defense, the lack of pressure on the quarterback from the defensive line. It would be hard not to be better than last year, but Sosa Agim is the only true playmaker in the front three. The key to better play will be a scheme that the players love. More movement in the new scheme will help this group make more plays and it might lead to more passionate play, the most critical aspect of playing defense. There were times the defensive line did not look like it was playing hard. If that changes this season, you might see much better results from some of the same players.

Carter: I think it remains to be seen. I don’t know that it is a certainty it will be much better. Agim taking the next step and becoming an All-SEC caliber player would go a long way, as would Jackson and Capps combining to form a consistent tandem at nose and at least 2 of the young ends emerging as legit starting SEC options. If all 3 happen, yes, the line will be better. If not, it could be about the same or perhaps worse. As bad as it was, last year’s line had a ton more experience than this group.

Holt: For Arkansas' sake, its defensive line had better play better than last season. Arkansas had talent and experience on its defensive line, but there was a disconnect between the coaches and players for whatever reason and several Razorbacks underachieved. The Razorbacks' defensive linemen should play with an extra edge after what happened last season and having some shuffling on the coaching staff figures to help.

Jones: It needs to be better, but the facts suggest it might be another struggle. Past a couple of front-line players, there is a lot of inexperience and the Hogs lost their two best linemen from last season to graduation and the NFL.

Discussion

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