Richardson steadies young DEs

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, September 14, 2019
Arkansas defensive end Mataio Soli (11) listens as defensive tackle T.J. Smith (52) talks during a game against Portland State on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas defensive end Mataio Soli (11) listens as defensive tackle T.J. Smith (52) talks during a game against Portland State on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas got younger and thinner at defensive end in a hurry.

Going into the season opener, the Razorbacks' ends were led by three seniors -- Dorian Gerald and Gabe Richardson as starters and Jamario Bell -- with true freshmen Mataio Soli and Zach Williams also in the rotation.

For last week's SEC opener at Ole Miss, Richardson was the only end who had played prior to this season.

[LIVE: Follow along with the latest updates during the game » arkansasonline.com/914hogslive]

Gerald suffered a season-ending neck injury against Portland State. Bell suffered a knee injury that sidelined him last week, and he's expected to miss today's game against Colorado State.

Soli started at Ole Miss, and Williams, true freshman Collin Clay and redshirt sophomore David Porter played off the bench. It was the first game for Clay and Porter.

"We're not going to make any excuses for that," defensive coordinator John Chavis said. "Next man up. They've got to go, they've got to play.

"I thought they did a good job. Are they SEC ready right now? Yes they are, because they're going to play."

Richardson had seven tackles against Ole Miss, including his first career sack. He has 10 tackles in two games, with two for losses totaling 11 yards.

"I can definitely play better," Richardson said.

Soli had three tackles and a quarterback hurry at Ole Miss.

"He was a little nervous," Richardson said. "But once he got those jitters out, he played fast."

Senior linebacker De'Jon Harris praised Richardson's leadership with so many young ends.

"Gabe has always been a vocal leader," Harris said. "We don't really have a problem with the way he's leading those younger guys.

"Those guys came in ready to learn, so they looked up to Gabe from the jump."

Soli said he played more aggressively at Ole Miss than he did off the bench against Portland State.

"The first game I feel like I was playing too conservative," he said. "I wasn't playing how I usually play, but the second game I felt like I did good."

Soli called it a "a blessing" to start.

"I've just got to keep on doing what I've got to do to hold the spot," he said.

Richardson said he's seen maturity from Soli.

"I told him, 'You have to grow up quick,' " Richardson said.

Richardson and Soli are both from the Atlanta area.

"I'm was always telling him about the dream we had about doing this and being great," Richardson said. "I told him he's going to be a freshman All-American and his stature is going to build, and we'd continue to hold him to our standard."

Soli injured his right hand against Portland State and has been playing and practicing with a large wrap that looks like a boxing glove.

"Sometimes it can be a nag, but you've just got to play through the pain," Soli said. "Do what you can to stay out there."

True freshman Eric Gregory likely will get into the defensive end rotation today after recovering from an ankle injury he suffered in training camp.

Arkansas Coach Chad Morris said Gregory could have played last week, but that it was better for him to get another week of practice.

"Last week with freshmen on the road in the SEC, they're going to make some mistakes," Morris said. "Those guys made their fair share of mistakes, but man, they played hard. We've got a tremendous upside with these guys."

Soli, Gregory and Williams were early enrollees, so they went through spring practice and summer workouts.

"Most of these guys were here during the spring, so I already had experience with them," Richardson said. "They're going to be just fine.

"I told them this ain't their team next year. It's their team now."

Richardson said his approach with the freshmen is to be positive and lead by example.

"They aren't looking for anybody to be in their face and telling them what to do and how to do it," he said. "You've just got to show them.

"You've got to continue to bring that energy and juice. Otherwise, they aren't going to do it as well. These guys are 19, 20. They need positivity."

Soli said Richardson relates well to the young ends.

"He always picks us up," Soli said. "If we mess up, he's always there. He tells us what we did wrong. He always tries to keep our head in the right place."

SEC standings

WESTERN DIVISION

CONF. ALL

Mississippi .........................1-0 1-1

Alabama .............................0-0 2-0

Auburn................................0-0 2-0

LSU .....................................0-0 2-0

Mississippi State ................0-0 2-0

Texas A&M .........................0-0 1-1

Arkansas .................... 0-1 1-1

EASTERN DIVISION

CONF. ALL

Georgia ...............................1-0 2-0

Florida .................................0-0 2-0

Kentucky .............................0-0 2-0

Missouri .............................0-0 1-1

South Carolina ...................0-0 1-1

Tennessee ...........................0-0 0-2

Vanderbilt ...........................0-1 0-2

TODAY’S GAMES

All times Central

Arkansas State at (3) Georgia, 11 a.m.

Kansas St. at Mississippi St., 11 a.m.

Tenn.-Chattanooga at Tennessee, 11 a.m.

(2) Alabama at South Carolina, 2:30 p.m.

Colorado State at Arkansas, 3 p.m.

SE Louisiana at Mississippi, 3 p.m.

Kent State at (8) Auburn, 6 p.m.

(9) Florida at Kentucky, 6 p.m.

Lamar at (16) Texas A&M, 6 p.m.

NW (La.) State at (4) LSU, 6:30 p.m.

SE Missouri State at Missouri, 6:30 p.m.

Sports on 09/14/2019

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