Arkansas Football: Who Will Replace Chris Smith in Starting Lineup in 2014?

Bryan Heater@@BHeaterRivalsCorrespondent IFebruary 20, 2014

DE Chris Smith
DE Chris SmithApril L Brown/Associated Press

Being a great football program is just as much about reloading at positions when players are gone as it is about playing a sound and fundamental game on the field. If you can't replace a star once he's gone, then problems begin to boil up. 

The Arkansas Razorbacks didn't have a lot of star power in 2013. While there are several positions that will have to be filled, it's not like the Hogs have to replace numerous All-SEC performers.

Rimington Trophy finalist and Associated Press First Team All-SEC center Travis Swanson is gone, but he has a clear replacement in emerging senior Luke Charpentier. 

The biggest hole left by departure is Chris Smith's spot at defensive end. Smith was the Razorbacks' best rush end last season, finishing fifth in the SEC with 8.5 sacks and 10th in tackles for loss with 11.5. He is rated the No. 8 defensive end and No. 80 overall player for the 2014 NFL draft by CBSSports.com

Losing Smith hurts the defense because of his pure pass-rushing skills and ability to make plays in the backfield. He was a great player for Arkansas and it's not going to be easy replacing his production.

That brings us to the main question: Who will replace Smith in 2014?

Going off of the team's Rivals.com depth chart from last year, his replacement would be Brandon Lewis. However, what muddies the situation is the fact that Trey Flowers chose to come back for his senior year. How does Flowers coming back affect whether or not Lewis will replace Smith, you might ask?

DE Deatrich Wise Jr.
DE Deatrich Wise Jr.Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Backing up Flowers is Deatrich Wise Jr., who is a better pass-rusher and an overall more skilled player. Both Lewis and Wise played in all 12 of the Hogs' games, but Wise was more productive when on the field.

Wise had 17 tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks last year while Lewis finished with 13 tackles, 3.5 TFL and 0.5 sacks.

Make no mistake, Lewis is a good player with talent. However, Wise has a lot more going for him and there's a very good chance head coach Bret Bielema will decide to move him to the other side to start opposite of Flowers.

Coming out of high school, Lewis and Wise were rated as 3-star prospects by 247Sports.com. Wise was considered to be the better talent and was ranked as a high 3-star recruit with a rating of 88, right on the cusp of 4-star status, while Lewis was a lower-ranked 3-star at 81.

The big difference between the two and why Wise seems likelier to replace Smith is, as mentioned, his pass-rushing skills.

Wise is more advanced than Lewis at the point of attack, hand quickness and footwork. Wise has a good first step and uses his hands very well to get past linemen. He also is an overall better athlete than Lewis and it showed when they played last year.

However, anything can happen over the next six months. Lewis and Wise are going to have opportunities to impress the staff during spring and fall practice and fill the hole left by Smith. The battle for that spot in the starting lineup should help push both to improve upon their games this offseason. 

But, in the end, it appears to be Wise's job to lose.

Bryan Heater is the featured columnist for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team. Follow him on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.


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