State of the Hogs: Chavis, Caldwell glad to be together again

By: Clay Henry
Published: Wednesday, February 7, 2018
Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis speaks during a news conference Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis speaks during a news conference Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, in Fayetteville.

— I'm excited about the 16 players announced by Chad Morris in his first Arkansas recruiting class. Morris provided the run down Wednesday afternoon.

I'm more excited about the help I saw in the weight room a few minutes later, from new defensive coordinator John Chavis and old friend Steve Caldwell. That's where the UA assistants were waiting for the media. Most were talking about the new players. I wanted to talk about the two old guys in the room.

You can take that “old guys” line how you want it. You could say one is an old friend, or John's old friend, or you can say he's mine, an old trout fisherman from Thayer, Mo.

I liked Caldwell, the Thayer guy, from the start when Bobby Petrino hired him as an assistant coach in 2010. He could both find, sign and develop defensive ends. As much as anyone, I was sad to see Caldwell fade into the sunset in the horrible John L. Smith season of 2012.

Just think what Caldwell left for Bret Bielema. Caldwell recruited Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Darius Philon and several other promising defensive end prospects.

That's the reason Chavis immediately suggested to Morris that Caldwell needed to be considered on his new staff when they were finalizing things over the Christmas holidays. Caldwell spent 14 seasons as Chavis' defensive line coach at Tennessee from 1995-2008. He also spent a year as a graduate assistant with Chavis in 1990.

“First, Steve is a great man,” Chavis said on why they are back together. “And, he's a heckuva recruiter. The guys he had here are in the NFL. So were a bunch he had at Tennessee.

“It's going to happen again here. He will find players, recruit them and develop them.”

It's the cornerstone of what the Razorbacks need to compete in the SEC. Caldwell knows the pressure is on him to get the talent to run the Chavis defense. Then the pressure will be on SEC quarterbacks.

“It's the same defense we were running when I left him at Tennessee in 2009,” Caldwell said. “And, he's still the same. It's funny, but I'd forgotten some of it and when we started going over the calls, it was the same, almost all of it.

“I'm telling you, I've been through a lot of coordinators since then. So I've heard a lot of different terms. It was good to hear something familiar. He's tweaked some stuff to fit the run-pass option stuff. It's going to be good, getting back to things we did for 14 years.”

There are still some decisions to be made on personnel. Morris, Chavis and Caldwell didn't give away any secrets about who might slide to a down position among the linebackers to fill depth in what will be a return to a 4-3 after last years's crash and burn in a 3-4.

There's not much doubt that McTelvin “Sosa” Agim will be one of those in an outside slot, at defensive end. He's a natural pass rusher.

“He gets excited when we tell him what we are going to be doing,” Caldwell said. “Really, all the guys like it. We are a 4-3 pressure team. We are not going to sit there. We are going to make things happen.

“I haven't watched everything, but I saw some tape of last year. We are going to pressure. We are going to be multiple, too.”

Steve Caldwell, shown in this July 2012 file photo, is in his second stint as an assistant coach at Arkansas. Caldwell previously worked for the Razorbacks from 2010-12 as defensive ends coach and special teams coordinator. (Jason Ivester/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

The Chavis system is the zone blitz. He calls it the “zone fires," and it's still as good as it was when the Vols won a national title in 1998.

“We've had great success with it, although not so much (at Texas A&M),” he said. “It was good for 21 years at Tennessee and six years at LSU.

“It can still work if you get special players. We will get them here. I know this system still works with great players.

“We are going to get players who are going to play at the next level. That's what it takes in the SEC. You don't play good defense without good players, especially in this league. And, it's a defensive line league. It's about recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. That's what we are going to do, recruit.

“Really, you can put it all together up front and say it's about recruiting. It's a line of scrimmage league. You better sign defensive linemen and offensive linemen. If you are not winning at the line of scrimmage, it's going to be really hard.”

Morris understands. The focus was to get better in the defensive line in the 2018 class. Four of the 16 signees are defensive line prospects and there are three on the offensive line. Nine play defense and there might be another one or two added for defense in the next few days.

“We had to sign offensive tackles,” Morris said, “and we signed two. We had to get our numbers back in that area. We also wanted to change our depth in the defensive line and we did that. We may not be through in that area.”

With 16 on the books, Morris said the Hogs could still add six more. There are 22 slots open after crossing off the three - Ty Clary, Hayden Henry and Gary Cross - that were signed last year as “blue shirts.” However, he said they would only sign perfect fits and that might only be another two or three.

Chavis knows the roster still needs more help.

“We won't beat the Kansas City Chiefs over night,” he said. “But a lot can happen with what we have right now in this room.”

Chavis was standing next to a bench press in the weight room.

“This room is almost as important as recruiting,” he said. “You sign them, then you develop them and then you retain them. That's the process. Like I said, we aren't ready for the Chiefs, but we can sure improve from where we are at now.

“We tell the ones we are recruiting that we see them at the next level. That's the ones we want. We think what we signed this year has that. If we want to compete for a championship, that's the kind of players we are going after and I know Steve understands that.”

There's a lot of listening and understanding from the new staff where Chavis is concerned. Offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said he's excited to spend time with his opposite number on defense to begin planning spring drills.

“John and I were on a plane yesterday with Coach Morris and that's some of what we talked about getting into,” Craddock said. “We'll get together and work up our installs. I look forward to it.”

Tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. has been on the road with Chavis in recruiting.

“What I saw was exactly what you expected, a great mind with a great plan,” Lunney said. “He knows exactly what he was looking for in recruiting and exactly how he's going to utilize his players. It's methodical and organized.”

Caldwell, the Arkansas assistant who has known Chavis the longest, agreed.

"I'm excited to be with him again," Caldwell said. "I don't think there was any doubt that both of us were excited. We talked about it before, but the situation at LSU and at A&M just didn't fit for whatever reason, but we knew this fit. He called as soon as it came up and I told him about Arkansas. I told him it would work and what was here.”


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