Arkansas Football: Biggest Question Marks Surrounding Razorbacks' Defense
The Arkansas Razorbacks are one of the best teams in the SEC and they have an explosive offense that can put up points against any team in the country.
In the past, the biggest problem for this team has been on the defensive side of the ball.
As they enter the 2012 college football campaign, the Razorbacks must answer the questions that surround a suspect defense if they hope to compete for the championship.
The good news for this defense is that the Hogs return six players from a year ago that are ready to contribute this season. This includes one of the best linebackers in football in senior Alonzo Highsmith, who will be the one of the leaders of the Hogs on defense.
This core of returning starters could compensate for the loss of defensive end Jake Bequette and middle linebacker Jerry Franklin.
The bad news is that the returning starters do not have an impressive résumé from a statistical standpoint.
When compared with other teams in the SEC, the Razorbacks were often at the bottom of the stat sheet on defense.
They ranked 10th in pass defense, ninth in rushing defense and ninth in total defense. The only other teams that fared worse than the Hogs in total defense were Auburn and Ole Miss and that is a glaring problem.
Defensive coordinator Paul Haynes brings a new system with him into the season and the players will have to catch on quick if they want to have some success.
The transition to the new defense is imperative to improvement.
The Razorbacks were forced to implement a new system after faltering on defense most of last year, which brings up one of the biggest question marks on defense.
Biggest Question Mark
The biggest question mark for the Hogs has to be the run defense. Although the Hogs defense was worse against the pass a year ago, it is the run defense that needs to improve.
The biggest competition in the SEC West is LSU and Alabama and they finished one and two respectively in rushing offense a year ago.
With a rushing game plan and an endless supply of top recruits, LSU and Alabama will be deadly on the ground again.
The Razorbacks will be compared to both of those teams all season long and in order to get respect they need to learn how to stop the run.
An improvement against the run could allow the Razorbacks to leapfrog these teams and challenge for the SEC West.
Secondary Need Improvement Too
The run defense is under the microscope but the secondary isn’t much better. Eric Bennett and sophomore Tevin Mitchel bring experience back to the team, but they still have holes to fill.
Bennett was a tackling machine on the field a year ago, registering 74 stops on the year and his leadership has proved invaluable so far in the spring, but he can’t do it alone. Several players will be called upon to step up and accept the challenge in the secondary.
This unit will have to learn fast and find chemistry in order to be ready for a tough schedule in 2012.
Alonzo Highsmith Injury
As mentioned earlier, Alonzo Highsmith has the potential to be one of the best but he does have injury concerns.
Highsmith is dealing with a pectoral injury that is something to watch as the season unfolds. The injury caused Highsmith to miss the entire spring and his status is still questionable for the start of the season.
If Highsmith misses time, it would be a crushing blow to the Hogs defense.
The Hogs have already asked Tenarius Wright to make the transition from defensive end to linebacker to lend a hand. Wright is a leader and should excel with the position change, but it is just another example of how much transition the defense has to endure.
Only Time Will Tell
The Razorbacks defense has all of the tools to improve this year.
They have a beefy front line with Bryan Jones, DeQuinta Jones and Robert Thomas ready to clog running lanes. They have talented leaders at linebacker with Highsmith and Wright and they have Bennett doing the ball-hawking in the secondary.
With that being said, the defense also has to deal with injuries, players changing positions and learning a new system.
Only time will tell if the Razorbacks embrace the change and succeed or struggle to keep up with the rugged competition in the SEC.