Dudley E. Dawson is a reporter for Hawgs Illustrated. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Harris sees depth rising at linebacker
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 Although he enjoyed his time as a “coach” this spring while rehabbing an injury, Arkansas senior linebacker De’Jon Harris is pleased to be back to his playing role in preseason camp.
Harris was the SEC’s regular season leading tackler for the second year in a row last season with 118, but missed out on most of spring practice due to a nagging foot injury that required surgery.
He not only helped out his younger teammates by coaching them up, but brushed up on the mental part of his game.
“I am way more confident, especially by sitting out the spring time, so anything that I didn’t understand or just need to re-go over with Chief, I had a lot of time to do it,” Harris said. “That’s what I did, just took advantage of that. That was my opportunity from being out of spring ball and that helped me a lot.”
Harris has several interceptions through the team's first six preseason practices, including one during Thursday's morning work.
It was something that Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis stressed to Harris during the offseason.
“That’s one of the things me and Chief came together after the season and tried to focus on, just doing a better job in the passing game,” Harris said. “So I’ve been trying to get out early and just had a couple of tipped balls to me from the D-line, just at the right place at the right time.”
Asked if he was worried about the offense reportedly having so many turnovers through the first week of camp, Harris said he was not.
“It doesn’t give me concerns at all,” Harris said. “We have players on both sides, we have scholarships on both sides of the ball, so things just happen on the opposite side in a bad way. It was good throws, I was just in the right place at the right time.”
Depth has been a problem the last few years with Arkansas starters having to play too many snaps.
Harris played 763 snaps on defense last season with true freshmen Bumper Pool getting 275, key reserves Hayden Henry and Grant Morgan a little over 100 each and no other returnee more than eight at linebacker.
The Razorbacks are using two practice fields to build depth by getting each player as many reps as possible.
“The depth is good,” Harris said. “We’ve been doing split fields right now. I’ve got the 1s and the 3s over there with me, the 2s and the 4s on the opposite field. The younger guys are getting good reps in. We’re building a lot of depth on both sides of the ball with the split fields, so I actually like what we’re doing, the way we’re running practice right now.
“…You can see the younger guys progressing and earning their reps instead of just sitting on the sideline and not getting none at all.”
The other linebackers will get lots of work in during Saturday’s scrimmage as the coaching staff limits Harris’ reps in an effort to get him to the regular season healthy.
“Just limited reps for me,” Harris said. “Obviously when I’m tired, I’ll make sure I get out of the game and get somebody fresh in there. I feel like as an older guy, you need me fresh toward the end of game instead of the beginning of the game.”
When senior linebacker Dre Greenlaw was injured in 2018, Pool was thrown into the mix. He ended up starting four games, making 29 tackles, breaking up four passes, blocking a kick and returning a fumble 60 yards.
“More confident, better understanding,” Harris said of Pool’s development. “He kind of grew up in the spring time, playing faster than what he played last year. As a true freshmen, he was thrown in there early when Dre hurt his ankle, but he looks way better now.
“I could see his head spinning. This a tough scheme to learn. We kind of switched him. He was playing (middle linebacker) last fall and in fall camp we switch him to (weakside) behind Dre, so I know his head was spinning when we just threw him out there.”
The newest arrival to the linebacker room is former nickel back D’Vone McClure, a former Cleveland Indians minor league baseball player who turned 25 this winter.
McClure started six games at nickel last season, played 370 snaps on defense and had 26 tackles, broke up three passes and forced a fumble.
“He is looking good, playing fast obviously because he played a lot of ball last season,” Harris said. “Just trying to get him to understand some of the the techniques as well. But he is looking good so far.”
McClure admits he was a bit stunned when the staff asked him to move to linebacker.
“At first, I was like, 'I don’t know about this, I just got comfortable at nickel,'” McClure said. “But then again, these guys have been around the game a long time, so I just had to trust them. It's going fairly well.”
Juniors Dede Edwards and Giovanni LaFrance are a pair of linebackers, along with redshirt freshman Andrew Parker, who have yet to see the field on a regular basis, but Harris says all three are having good camps so far.
“Giovanni is in a rotation at Mike,” Harris said. “He’s been doing a lot of good things with Grant and Andrew. Those three guys came a long way. Just trying to get them more consistent.
“DeDe Edwards, he started off a little slow moving from safety to Will, but he’s come a long way. He's at Sam right now. I think he’s the No. 2 Sam, so he’ll see a lot of playing time this year because we’ll play a lot of base.”
Harris sees both competition and inconsistency out of the linebackers.
“I think everybody right now in our group, in my room right now, is at the same level right now,” he said. “Everybody does different type of things - good and bad. I feel like everybody in my room is just building depth, so they’re probably at the same level right now.”
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