The time is here when the welcomed sound of pads popping and coaches yelling will ring across the Ozarks. That can mean only one thing, the Arkansas Razorbacks spring practices are here.
In the final defensive position spring preview, we are focused on the Hogs’ linebackers. The Arkansas coaching staff has worked to add depth to the linebacker position with their previous two recruiting classes, but the position remains as one where the coaches are looking to develop their depth.
The change in coaching staff has changed the philosophy in recruiting. The Hogs are no longer taking undersized linebackers and expecting them to overachieve in the SEC (Think Tony Bua and Sam Olajubutu). The linebackers have become taller and longer in the short span of two years.
Hopefully, depth won’t be an issue this year like it was last year.
In last year’s Georgia game, Jerry Franklin was ejected in the first half. It almost immediately sealed the outcome because they were so thin at linebacker. This year Arkansas will feature some young talent to go along with players with a plethora of SEC experience.
Let’s take a look at the depth chart heading into the spring season. Positions will be listed as MLB and OLB 1 and OLB 2.
Jermaine Love (Sr., 5-11, 230)
Jermaine Love didn’t start a single game in 2009 and only played in three games. Petrino is hoping that Love can step up his production in 2010 and step up into a senior leadership role. Love was listed as a back-up middle linebacker last season behind Jerry Franklin. Franklin has now made the move to OLB, which leaves Love number one on the spring depth chart.
Terrell Williams (So., 6-3, 237)
Williams played in every game last season and started one game. He recorded nine tackles and one quarterback hurry. He could see an increased role in the defense this year because of the increased depth. The defense was so thin last year, that they would get worn down late in games and couldn’t stop drives that tied games. If Williams can prove to be a reliable replacement, we might hear his name more this season.
Austin Moss (So., 6-3, 227)
Moss came highly recruited out of the state of Texas. He played in 11 games last season and recorded eight tackles. Moss spent some time on special teams last season, and will be fighting this spring to see action at linebacker in the fall. Petrino plays people who work hard in practice, so this spring he could make a name for himself by showing considerate growth.
Jerico Nelson (Jr., 5-10, 205)
There are three certainties in life; Death, taxes, and Jerico Nelson lighting someone up. Nelson was part of Petrino’s first recruiting class and he was quite the steal out of Louisiana. Jerico Nelson can change games. His face mask locking hit on Mario Fannin in last year’s Auburn game set the crowd on fire. He is so versatile that he can play safety, linebacker, or his own hybrid linebacker “Jack” position. Nelson was third on the team last season with 74 tackles. When Jerico hits you, you know it.
Bret Harris (Jr., 6-0, 228)
Harris is another player that has been around, but hasn’t done much in the stat column. He finished last season with 6 tackles. Harris spent a season at safety in 2008 and saw limited action.
Jerry Franklin (Jr., 6-1, 241)
Franklin starts this spring season number one on the depth chart at OLB. He has the versatility to play every linebacker position. He’s spent time at middle linebacker and lead the team in tackles last season with 94 tackles, including one sack and three interceptions. Franklin may be the most experienced of the linebackers. Hopefully this season he will have matured enough to not make the same stupid mistakes that got him ejected from the Georgia game.
Freddy Burton (Sr., 6-2, 238)
Burton is the other senior on the linebacking corp. Last season he showed a nose for the ball. He finished with 54 tackles and 2 sacks. More importantly he caused turnovers. Last season he picked off one pass, forced a fumble, and recovered a fumble. A large part of the Hog’s success was a winning the turnover battle, and Burton more than did his part.
Hopefully the linebackers will be a point of leadership this season. If they can force turnovers and help the secondary and the defensive line with their respective duties than Arkansas could have the most complete defense they’ve had in quite some time. This years recruiting class has a lot of talented athletes. Some of them could end up linebackers and add depth to an already deep position.