The biggest remaining coaching mystery was solved over the weekend, as Arkansas finally named a defensive coordinator.
Robb Smith—formerly the linebackers coach of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers and longtime assistant with Rutgers under former coach Greg Schiano—was named the defensive coordinator and secondary coach of the Hogs Saturday.
"Robb has been promoted time and time again at every place he's been," head coach Bret Bielema said in quotes released by Arkansas. "With his background, he captivates a room no matter where he is and players gravitate towards him. He's demonstrated an understanding of what it takes to build a team into a championship program."
The job had been vacant for nearly a month, after former defensive coordinator Chris Ash left the program to become the co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State.
Smith has his work cut out for him, because Arkansas is nowhere near a championship program on the defensive side of the ball, as-is.
The Hogs finished ninth in the SEC in total defense, giving up 413.4 yards per game last year, and 12th in yards per play with 6.09. The secondary—which will be Smith's positional focus—gave up 235 yards per game through the air and 7.9 yards per passing play—the second-worst mark in the conference.
|Arkansas' Defense in 2013|
|Total Defense||413.4 YPG||9|
|Yards Per Play||6.09 YPP||12|
|Pass Defense||235.0 YPG||11|
|Rush Defense||178.42 YPG||11|
There is talent for Smith to work with.
Defensive end Chris Smith exhausted his eligibility, but rising senior Trey Flowers opted to stay with the program instead of bolting early for the NFL. Defensive lineman Darius Philon was a freshman All-SEC selection from the coaches last season after notching 46 tackles, nine tackles for loss and three sacks in 2013. Leading returning tackler Alan Turner will be back at safety along with rising senior cornerback Tevin Mitchel.
But can those pieces work together and lead the program back to prosperity?
Bielema wants to play an old-school brand of football that's predicated on running the ball and playing defense. That means the margin for error is thinner in Fayetteville than it is at other programs where offenses are more dynamic and can make up for the shortcomings of their defenses.
Simply put, Arkansas cannot skate by being opportunistic playing the way Bielema wants to play. Its defense has to be a difference maker which means it must essentially pull a 180-degree turn from where it was a year ago.
Despite this being Bielema's second year as head coach, there is pressure in Fayetteville.
A 3-9 record in 2013 and a nine-game losing streak simply won't cut it—rebuilding year or not. The Hogs need to show marginal improvement in 2014, otherwise, 2015 could get a little dicey for Bielema and his staff.
Can Smith get things turned around in a hurry and at least get Arkansas competitive in the rough-and-tumble SEC West? There's talent there but the depth that makes championship-caliber teams is not. He has his work cut out for him.
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.
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