FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas took a hit at the safety position last week.
Captain Jalen Catalon was ruled out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury and underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum Monday morning.
Last Saturday’s meeting with Auburn served as a bit of a preview for what is to come at his spot down the stretch of the season. Sophomore defensive back Myles Slusher got the start against the Tigers and, outside of allowing a deep ball for a touchdown, filled in well.
Slusher finished with seven tackles and a pass breakup over 45 snaps in his third career start.
“I thought he actually played better than even I thought he would, because he hasn’t played much ball,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said Monday. “He’s been hurt the whole time, really since he’s been here.
“I think he can take that position and do well there.”
A former 4-star recruit out of Broken Arrow, Okla., Slusher received some unprompted praise from cornerback Montaric Brown following the 38-23 loss to Auburn. Brown, who recorded his third interception of the season during the game, noted Slusher’s intensity has stood out in recent practices.
Slusher is also a player who Pittman — prior to the Razorbacks’ game against Texas A&M — said can be almost as good as any player on Barry Odom’s defense when in ideal playing shape.
“Last year was a high ankle (sprain) and this year is a ham/quad, whatever it may be,” Pittman said Sept. 20. “If he can get healthy, he’s a really good football player. And I think all of you will see that.”
According to Arkansas’ depth chart ahead of Saturday’s game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Slusher is projected to start again at safety. Brown added last Saturday that he feels comfortable playing alongside Slusher.
Starting linebacker Bumper Pool said he was pleased with the next-man-up mentally Slusher showcased in Catalon’s absence.
“I thought he did a very good job,” Pool said. “I’m always in his ear trying to breathe confidence into him. And it just came to fruition for him....I thought he played well, and he stepped up into a difficult spot behind an All-American-type player.”
In addition to Slusher, another young player expected to see an uptick in snaps this week is Malik Chavis.
A high school standout at Rison in south Arkansas, Chavis will get an opportunity Saturday to state his case for more playing time in the Razorbacks’ final four SEC games. Through seven games, 114 of his 120 snaps played have come on various special teams.
The 6 defensive snaps — 4 as a slot cornerback, 2 as a free safety, according to Pro Football Focus — came against Georgia Southern on Sept. 18. Pittman likes Chavis’ ability in the back end and is looking forward to seeing him get extended time.
“He’s got the body type. He can run,” Pittman said. “He’s finally getting comfortable in there. He knows what he’s doing. A lot of times guys will surprise you with how well they play. Sometimes they don’t play as good as you think they’re going to.
“But he’s done a nice job and he’s worked hard.”