Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Odom's plan: Virtual meetings give Hogs peek at what’s in store
Barry Odom, an assistant coach with the University of Arkansas football team, speaks with members of the media Thursday, February 6, 2020, inside the Fred W. Smith Football Center on the campus in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas football team might be hunkered down at home and not practicing like every other team in the United States, but a couple of Razorbacks defensive players haven’t lost any enthusiasm when it comes to studying the new schemes under defensive coordinator Barry Odom.
“I’ll tell you right now, I would be very shocked if we ran anything less than everything this year,” senior linebacker Grant Morgan said Friday on a teleconference that also included safety Jalen Catalon and receiver Mike Woods.
“When we say ‘base’ and we send out everybody, it’s going to be a 3-2-6. It’s a variation off a 3-3, but you have an extra nickel and you have an extra [defensive back] to stop the passing everyone wants to do. But you’ve got the variation with the middle safety to be able to come down and fit the run gaps that we’re going to need this year.”
The Razorbacks have not had their first spring practice yet, but they can study the playbook and the schemes Odom has put into place. The NCAA allowed two hours of virtual meetings this week — a time frame the NCAA agreed to double next week — and the Razorbacks used it for 30 minutes of position group meetings via on-line chat applications Monday through Thursday.
“I love Coach Odom and what he’s doing right now,” said Catalon, a redshirt freshman. “I think he believes in our DBs and that everyone can play right now, so we’re kind of rotating the spots. So one day you might be a free safety and the next day you might be a boundary safety or a strong safety. Or one day you might be a nickel.”
Odom has used many defensive schemes over the years, always with an emphasis on utilizing the strengths of his roster.
During the winter, Odom said, “I don’t ever believe you can put your fist on the table and say, ‘We’re going to do this, we’re a 4-3, Tampa 2 defense. We’re an odd front. We’re a 3-3-5.’ We have to see what we have personnel wise. We’re teachers. We build and put them in position to go play successful and play fast.”
Morgan is learning his fourth defense in his fifth season with the Razorbacks, transitioning from Robb Smith to Paul Rhoads to John Chavis and now to Odom.
“I know this is the most simple defense we’ve learned, with just letting us fly around,” Morgan said. “All of the language with the defense is just super easy. They all match.
“Everything goes with something else, so it kind of all just correlates with everything. It makes it super simple. I know that over the past four years of being here, leading up to spring, we were farther than we ever were with the new defense. We could go play a game right now, but we wouldn’t want to at all just because you have to be able to have certain things. But I feel comfortable enough.”
Odom works in the secondary, handling the safeties along with cornerbacks coach Sam Carter, so they will have the most populous position group on the field in the team’s base set.
“As far as us getting it, I feel like everybody feels really comfortable about it,” Catalon said. “As far as our meetings, everybody knows what we’re supposed to do and where we’re supposed to be at. To have things like that at a very early stage, I feel like that’s very effective.
“I know we’ll be able to grow throughout the meetings that we have online and stuff like that. I know we’re all taking very serious the communication and stuff like that, just studying the playbook and making sure we stay on top of that. As far as the defense goes, it’s very simple actually. I know it’s going to be very effective and everybody can make plays in it for sure.”
The Razorbacks went 0-4 against Missouri the past four seasons when Odom was serving as head coach at his alma mater.
“I’ll just say I’m super happy he’s on our side,” Morgan said. “I’m tired of paling him and I’m glad he’s on our side … because he’s a dang good coach, and I’ve noticed that and realized that right away.”
Woods said the position meetings this week were beneficial.
“It was good going over some things that we needed to go over,” Woods said. “It kind of was a refresher to our minds, so I thought it was real good and we got some good things out of this week. We can definitely handle some more.”
The Razorbacks know that all the “virtual” coaching they can stand is not the same as getting on the practice field together.
“We’re all pretty comfortable with [the playbook] right now,” Woods said. “Like I said, we just have to get a little refresher because it’s been a minute since we could actually meet up. Obviously getting out on the practice field would do us a lot of help. We need that. But as far as knowing what we need to do, I believe that we’re pretty good in that phase.”
Said Catalon, “Every team in the country is dealing with this, so it’s just who is going to make the best out of it and stay on top of things as far as mentally and physically? So far we’ve handled it really well.
“I think it would have been good for us to have spring ball. I wanted to get out there for my first spring ball, but that’s life. Sometimes you get hit with something. Who is going to respond when things like that happen?”
Morgan was a little more explicit about not having a timetable for getting in the 15 allowable spring practices.
“I’m not going to say it’s a huge blow for us just because we have a first [year] coach,” he said. “It sucks. Life is about two things: The things that happen to you and how you respond to them. We’re responding really well.
“We’ve got to look in hindsight. Every other team is going through this right now, so why can’t we benefit from it more than anybody else? We’re trying our hardest to take one step above everyone right now and use it as an advantage. This isn’t a threat to us, it’s an opportunity.”
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