Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year twice.
ARKANSAS POSITION PREVIEW Cornerback/Nickel back:
Youth to go around: Sophomore McClellion is veteran among UA cornerbacks
Arkansas defensive backs Jarques McClellion (4) and Greg Brooks Jr. (9) line up for a drill Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, during practice at the university practice field in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Jarques McClellion is a redshirt sophomore with nine career starts, but that makes him the veteran among University of Arkansas cornerbacks.
The other cornerbacks have a combined four starts -- three by Montaric Brown and one by Britto Tutt.
At a glance
LOSSES Ryan Pulley (9 starts at CB last season), Kevin Richardson (4 at NB), D’Vone McClure (6 at NB, moved to OLB), Derrick Munson (1 at NB).
RETURNING STARTER Jacques McClellion (9 at CB).
WHO’S BACK Montaric Brown (3 at CB), Britto Tutt (1 at CB), Jordon Curtis, Miccah Smith (moved from safety)
WHO’S NEW Devin Bush, LaDarrius Bishop, Greg Brooks, Malik Chavis
WALK-ONS Simeon Blair, Hudson Clark, Nathan Parodi
ANALYSIS McClellion and Brown are redshirt sophomores, but they’re the most experienced cornerbacks with a combined 12 starts. Tutt is a senior, but he has been plagued by knee injuries. Smith moved to cornerback from safety last spring. Bush, Bishop, Brooks and Chavis are talented, but true freshmen. Brooks is the leading candidate to start at nickel back.
McClellion was thrust into the starting lineup after three games last season because Chevin Calloway left the team.
"I just had to mature," McClellion said. "I remember early in life that I had to mature because I had [three] younger siblings. I had to be the older brother and make sure I was doing the right things."
McClellion said he transferred that maturity to his play last season as a freshman to show the coaches they could count on him.
"As a redshirt I'm thinking, 'Wow, I'm on the field, I'm getting playing time, I'm happy,' " he said. "But then I realized I had to start putting effort in to let them know what I can do."
McClellion played 701 snaps last season at cornerback and on special teams, including 606 on defense. He had 25 tackles and seven pass breakups.
"Jarques has had a great camp and in the meeting room he really has taken over that leadership role," said Mark Smith, who coaches the defensive backs along with Ron Cooper. "He's played a lot of meaningful snaps, so his leadership is going to be critical."
Smith said Brown, a redshirt sophomore from Ashdown, has become comfortable at cornerback after moving from safety last season.
"I'm probably most proud of Montaric of all of the guys," Smith said. "When we moved him to corner during the middle of the season, he really had to kind of get his feet wet playing there.
"It's a different skill set than what he was used to doing. He was frustrated there early on that he wasn't just picking it up immediately."
Smith said focusing on fundamentals and technique in spring practice helped Brown's transition to cornerback.
"He's really grasped it," Smith said. "He took the bull by the horns and said, 'I'm going to be really good at this.'
"He's got a nice long body, and long arms and frame. His footwork really cleaned up over the course of spring ball and he did a great job of working himself out throughout the summer of making sure he was good with everything that we're asking him to do. He's really come into his own and I'm expecting a lot of great things from him."
Brown said he initially didn't take it well when asked by the coaches to move to cornerback, but that now he loves playing there.
The back-pedaling cornerbacks playing at the line rather than being deep as a safety, Brown said, was the biggest adjustment.
"You just have to work on your footwork every day," he said. "You've got to have good feet being at the corner position."
Brown had nine tackles and one pass breakup last season.
"I've seen him grow tremendously since last year," sophomore safety Joe Foucha said. "We kind of had the same problem, like it was a little bit nerve-racking for us.
"But now with both of us being out there together, I feel like he knows I've got his back so he knows he can play aggressive. I always tell him that. And each day he gets better and better and better."
Tutt has seen limited snaps in his two seasons at Arkansas because of knee injuries. He's been getting some breaks in practice.
"He's having a great camp," Smith said. "We've monitored the workload we've put on him, but he has responded.
"This is his last year. He's ultra-focused. Hopefully, he'll have a significant impact."
Freshman Greg Brooks has been practicing as the No. 1 nickel back most of training camp. The second-teamers behind McClellion and Brown are freshmen LaDarrius Bishop and Devin Bush. Freshman Malik Chavis also is in the mix at cornerback and redshirt sophomore Micahh Smith -- who moved from safety -- is working at nickel back.
"There's a lot of talent," Brown said. "We're not worried about the young age or anything. We've got a chip on our shoulder every time we go out. We're playing to the best of our ability."
Defensive coordinator John Chavis said it's up to the coaching staff to get the cornerbacks prepared for games.
"We're not afraid to play young guys," Chavis said. "We've got young guys starting and we've got young guys that are backing them up. That doesn't bother me.
"I feel good about our talent. We've just got to keep pushing the envelope and we've got to get those guys ready to play. Guess what, there's going be some freshmen that are going to play at corner for us. That's just the way it is. Been there before and done that."
Brown and McClellion have been roommates since they arrived at Arkansas in 2017.
"Montaric is like a brother to me," McClellion said. "I've been with him through it all and have seen him progress.
"People don't understand how hard it is to move from safety to corner ... But he's gifted. We're going to be one of the top duos in the nation at cornerback."
McClellion, 6-0, said he's increased his weight since last season from 170 pounds to 185.
"I'm the most physical corner you can meet," McClellion said. "I just believe in myself more than anything. So if you have the confidence in yourself then you can lock up anybody."
McClellion said that includes Atlanta Falcons star receiver Julio Jones.
"I can lock up Julio if I put my mind to it," McClellion said. "That's how I feel, and that's how it's always going to be."
Brown, 6-0, said he's at 193 pounds after playing at 180 last season.
"I feel comfortable at this weight," he said. "I feel way better than last year and I feel I can do things different."
McClellion said he and Brown put in extra time after practice.
"Either we watch film or maneuver and work on technique and make sure it's right," McClellion said. "We're just doing the little things.
"It's nothing hard, it's just how much dedication and how much effort you want to put into it. Whatever you put into it is what you get out."
Sports on 08/16/2019
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