Defense keeps its championship belt streak alive headed into spring break

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis watches a drill during practice Tuesday, March 5, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis watches a drill during practice Tuesday, March 5, 2019, in Fayetteville.

— After the seventh and final football practice before spring break, Arkansas redshirt sophomore cornerback Jacques McClellion came striding in the media room Wednesday night with the Razorbacks’ new championship belt over his shoulder.

McClellion (6-0, 173) was proudly displaying the belt after the defense forced four turnovers and kept its streak alive of never having lost it to the offense this spring.

It’s just being fundamentally sound as stressed by Arkansas head coach Chad Morris, defensive coordinator John “Chief” Chavis and secondary coach Ron Cooper per McClellion.

“We had four turnovers as a defense,” McClellion said. “We just played fundamentals, the way Coach Morris always wants us to. And Coach Chief and Coach Cooper always tell us in meeting to strip the ball. Get that lawnmower right, try to get the ball every chance we get, try to get at least three turnovers in a practice. That’s how we got this belt right here.”

Getting the belt has become a real motivational tool according to McClellion, a former Florida prep star who started nine games last season with 25 tackles and seven pass break ups.

“Our whole point is if we can get the belt every day of spring, we’re going to get the belt every day in spring,” McClellion said. “It’s competition. You’re not out here to play to lose. Our coach tells us that every day. We’re out here to win. We want to win. That’s what we’re doing.

“The defense is competing every day. We’re playing with our heart. All heart. That’s all we need for this game. All heart and just being smart on the field, as well.”

Defensive tackle T.J. Smith also talked about cranking the lawnmower, which is a term Chavis uses for the motion while trying to strip the ball from an offensive guy.

“Chief’s whole emphasis is cranking the lawnmower, getting the ball out, and so that’s what guys have been doing,” Smith said.

Smith is impressed with new defensive tackles coach Kenny Ingram.

“A lot of the emphasis is just ball get off, keying the ball, attacking the line of scrimmage, playing on their side of the line of scrimmage and just being aggressive. Getting that, just creating that mentality.

“Oh man, I love him. Just on a personal development standpoint and as a player I love him to death. How he helps us spiritually as young men and growing. As well as football. He’s a great coach. He knows his stuff. It’s good to get in there and learn from a guy like that.”

Offensive lineman Colton Jackson was not happy with the effort from his side of the line on Wednesday.

“We just didn’t come out,” Jackson said. “We just weren’t ready to go today. Offense came out today and they just basically manhandled us. We’ve got to come back after spring break and not let that happen again.”

Arkansas will return to the practice field on March 26, with six practices, the Red-White game on April 6 and a follow up practice the next Monday to finish off the 15 practices the NCAA allows in the spring.

“It will just give us some rest so we can come back and finish,” safety Kamren Curl said. “Take our mind off football for a little bit them come back ready to go. We have to be back next Sunday (March 24) for a team meeting.”

Curl finds himself also a vet back in what is now a youthful secondary.

“It's crazy,” Curl said. “Just like I've got to step up. I just turned 20 and I'm the most experienced guy. So I've got to grow up. That's what I've been doing since I got here. My first game when (Ryan) Pulley got hurt I had to step up. So it's nothing new.”

Chase Hayden, the lone healthy scholarship tailback at practice this week, also believes the break is coming at a good time.

“Everybody’s worn down right now,” Hayden said. “Yeah, I think it’s a good time. A lot of people are dinged up a little bit.”

Hayden believes the offense should have been awarded the belt after Saturday’s scrimmage, but having three turnovers gave the defense the belt despite some huge plays from the offense.

"We didn’t get the belt on Saturday,” Hayden said. “…I felt we should have got the belt. They had a couple of good days but I felt last Saturday we won the belt.”

McClellion believes that while there is youth in the secondary, there is also plenty of talent, beginning with early enrollees Devin Bush and Greg Brooks, Jr.

“Devin and Greg, those are two special DBs from New Orleans,” McClellion said. “Watching them play and knowing I have those two DBs behind me, it is just a blessing. We are now looking at it as we are trying to be DBU and we are trying to wake up a lot of people. Especially after last season, we have so much on our shoulders and so much to prove.

“With us coming back, me, Kamren Curl, (Montaric) Buster Brown, Joe Foucha, Devin McClure, you just have got to know it’s just us. The freshmen are buying into the process and are not having no fight back with us, just buying into and knowing wherever we left off at that we have just got to keep building day-by-day like Coach Morris says.”

McClellion has become more of a vocal presence this year.

“Changes I made in the off-season were becoming more vocal, making sure I was getting my voice out there more about what we need to do when the ball is lined up on a certain part of the field,” McClellion said, “how I need to line up if I press or play off.

“I just need to be that leader on the field. I need to be that dominant cornerback. Last year it was (Ryan) Pulley, I was behind him and had to pick up some ground as a freshman. Now I am in his spot and the best man, the best receiver, I have to go against them, lock them down and do what Coach Chavis and Coach Cooper need.”

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