Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Edwards, Parker making strides at linebacker
Arkansas linebackers Deon Edwards and Andrew Parker run through a drill during a preseason practice on Sept. 7, 2020.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman believes the Razorbacks got some things accomplished in practice No. 14 Thursday inside Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Among the positives was solid play from his linebackers, a position group in which the first-year head coach had previously not seen much separation and called on to bring a greater deal of physicality to the table.
In the nearly two-hour practice that was mostly closed, Pittman said Arkansas hit the field energized and those at the second level of his defense made a few plays, a bit of a continuation from the Razorbacks’ second scrimmage Sept. 4.
“I thought our linebackers showed up a little bit more today, especially on inside run,” Pittman said via Zoom. “I thought they had a nice, physical (practice). (Andrew) Parker and (Hayden) Henry and some of those guys. Obviously, (Deon) Edwards.
“Parker and Edwards have really made a ton of strides in the last 12-13 practices. I’m really proud of them. They’re physical kids. Those guys kind of stood out a little bit tonight.”
Edwards, a redshirt senior, and Parker, a redshirt sophomore, have not played a high number of meaningful snaps at linebacker to this point in their careers, but they have gained valuable reps this preseason. Edwards has primarily played on special teams with the Razorbacks, and Parker saw the field in seven games in 2019.
Parker tallied five tackles last season while Edwards has 16 — 2.5 for loss — to his name over three years. Edwards was said to have made a big hit in Arkansas’ first scrimmage and recorded a tackle for loss in the second.
When asked what has stood out about their play of late, Pittman said the two are not playing as laterally as they were in previous workouts.
“They're coming downhill,” Pittman said. “They haven't played much ball, so they're seeing the pulling guard, they're seeing the tight end go backside. They're seeing that so much better now. (Edwards) has got more speed than Parker, but Parker's got more size and is a little bit more of a big, physical guy.
“They're just seeing the game better.”
Pittman said linebackers coach Rion Rhoades, who spent the previous 13 years as head coach at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, has done a nice job bringing Edwards and Parker along and helping them play instinctively.
“They want to be really good, and that's a big part of anybody becoming a good player,” Pittman said. “I really like their attitude. They're seeing the game so much faster than they were even a week ago.”
Hayden Henry, who finished with 31 tackles and a pair of pass breakups last season, had “a better practice” on Thursday, Pittman said, adding that the senior did some nice things. Others at the position “are doing a nice job.”
Oklahoma transfer Levi Draper has flashed at times in defensive coordinator Barry Odom’s scheme, too. He finished with three tackles for the Sooners in 2019, playing in all 14 games.
“He’s starting to understand the defense a little bit more,” Pittman said last month. “Coach Rhoades is a great coach. I just talked to (Draper) about, ‘Hey, man, your job as a linebacker is to go make a tackle. And all this to fill in and do this and do that. Hey, man, tackle the guy with the ball. I thought he did that.
“To be honest with you, I think he’s doing a lot of processing. If you’re processing, you’re not reacting. And in this league, if you’re processing, you’re getting beat. I just think he’s probably learned the defense a little bit better.”
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