ARKANSAS POSITION PREVIEW LINEBACKERS:

Harris, Greenlaw lead budding unit

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Tuesday, August 21, 2018
Arkansas linebacker De'Jon Harris participates in a drill Friday, Aug. 3, 2018, during practice at the university practice field on campus in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas linebacker De'Jon Harris participates in a drill Friday, Aug. 3, 2018, during practice at the university practice field on campus in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- A reporter was carefully asking linebacker De'Jon Harris at the University of Arkansas' football media day the million dollar question regarding the Hogs' reserves at linebacker.

During the question, the reporter paused for a beat.

Linebackers at a glance

Returning starters Dre Greenlaw (12 starts in 2017), De’Jon Harris (12)

Losses Dwayne Eugene (7), Alexy Jean-Baptiste (now at DE)

Who’s back Grant Morgan, Dee Walker, Deon Edwards, Hayden Henry, Giovanni LaFrance, Kyrei Fisher

Who’s new Bumper Pool, Andrew Parker

Walk ons Terrell Collins, Tyler Phillips

Analysis Arkansas coaching staffs have talked about improving linebacker depth the last several years, but don’t have much to show for it. However, the group is now loaded with second- and third-year players who should be ready to play faster, along with the quick-rising freshman Pool. If Harris and Greenlaw soar past 100 tackles again, it probably means they’re not getting enough in-game rest and that’s not a good thing for the Razorbacks.

Harris filled the open space.

"Are they ready?" he said.

Yes are the backup linebackers ready to provide the type of quality contributions that have been lacking at the spot for years?

Harris and Dre Greenlaw started 12 games each last season, with Harris racking up 115 tackles at one inside linebacker spot and Greenlaw 103 at the other.

The linebacker with the next-highest tackle total was Grant Morgan, now a redshirt sophomore, with 38, followed by Dwayne Eugene with 31. That was in the one season the Razorbacks based out of a 3-4 look with guys like Randy Ramsey (42 tackles) at outside linebacker. Now they're back in a 4-3 alignment under first-year coordinator John Chavis. No other linebacker totaled more than seven tackles. Those were by Dee Walker, who also is a sophomore.

"That's the one thing we're pushing in our room," Harris acknowledged. "It's been a factor even before I got here, when Brooks [Ellis] and Dre were here pushing the younger guys, trying to get them to learn smaller parts into the playbook."

Harris said he, Greenlaw and Morgan worked diligently through the spring and summer on Chavis' new schemes so they could help the younger players.

"I feel like all of them took a bigger step from last year through the spring and up to now," Harris said.

Morgan showed improvement as the season wore on, essentially becoming the top reserve. In camp, sophomore Hayden Henry has gotten plenty of run at linebacker and the hybrid safety-linebacker spot, and true freshman Bumper Pool has made plays.

Chavis said Greenlaw was held out of the team's final major scrimmage Saturday and Harris played very little for the express purpose of testing younger players.

"My focus was on the depth," Chavis said. "I'm excited about where Bumper Pool is right now. Dee Walker, we got a chance to get him back ... for his first live work in about six days and he got a good bit of work there."

Greenlaw was asked if he'd have to play 90 percent or more of the snaps this season.

"Definitely not," Greenlaw said. "I think out of the last four years I've been here ... I want to say that I feel like we've matured a lot mentally. A lot of the guys that weren't just quite getting it are really starting to pick it up."

Chavis said he's had defenders play upwards of 80-90 snaps per game at linebacker and the result isn't good.

"Right now there's more and more possessions in football and really if you can keep a guy to 50 plays or less at linebacker, I don't want it to go over that," he said. "And to be quite honest with you, in the past we haven't had that kind of depth.

"Hopefully, we're going to develop that kind of depth here. After you get 50 or 60 snaps, you're not the same football team. I don't even like to talk about that, but that is the truth."

The sophomore class is loaded with linebackers behind Henry and Morgan who look the part but haven't turned into game-day difference-makers yet, among them Deon Edwards, Kyrei Fisher, Giovanni LaFrance and Walker.

The opportunities should be there as the Razorbacks embark on a new season Sept. 1, hoping to ditch the memories of a 4-8 season marked by poor defense.

"I'd say there's a bunch of those guys that got 35 or 40 snaps [on Saturday]," Chavis said, referencing the last scrimmage, "and that's good for them.

"Now they got a chance to see themselves on film in a live situation. If all you ever do is practice and practice and you don't play the game and get in game situations, you don't get better as fast. They're going to see that. Again, I have to help them and that's what I'm here to do."

Morgan, called Chavis' new approach awesome.

"He's not just putting pressure on the quarterback, he's putting pressure on all of us, too," Morgan said. "He's making us step up and be better men. That's what he prides himself on as well, making us better men off the football field and I think he's done it already and we're going to continue to step that way."

Henry said Greenlaw and Harris, nicknamed "Scoota," have delivered on the field and in the classroom for the younger linebackers.

"Scoota and Dre have been great, teaching me a whole lot and learning a whole lot from two guys who have played so much in the SEC," Henry said. "It's been great having them there to guide me.

"Scoota Harris is probably the smartest football player I've ever met in my entire life. He just comes off as this soft-spoken, real nice guy, but I mean the guy is a dog.

"Dre Greenlaw is the fastest guy on the team. Write that down on paper, because that's a fact. Dre Greenlaw is the fastest guy on the team, which a lot of people probably don't know."

Sports on 08/21/2018

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