FAYETTEVILLE – Three defensive line additions from the transfer portal are expected to provide Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom to employ more 4-man fronts than he employed for last year’s Razorbacks.
Two of the additions, senior defensive ends Markell Utsey and Tre Williams via the University of Missouri, Odom knows well having recruited and coached both during his 2016-2019 tenure as Mizzou’s head coach.
The third addition, senior defensive tackle John Ridgeway via Illinois State, helps inside where the Hogs lost their lone key 2020 defensive lineman, tackle Jonathan Marshall drafted in the sixth round by the New York Jets.
Lack of defensive line and a surplus in the secondary prompted Coach Sam Pittman and Odom to concur only abundantly playing a 3-2-6 scheme.
Often dropping eight back in coverage was effective early, especially in victories over Mississippi State and Ole Miss, but the lack of pass rush caught up to the 3-7 Hogs by late season.
And it cramped the versatility that Odom’s defenses were known for when he coordinated defenses at Mizzou and Memphis and head coached Mizzou.
“Last year I don’t know if we could get into a 4-man line and take our nickels or boundary safety off the field to get to that,” Pittman said last May after spring practice. We have to get to the point where our four D-linemen are as good as our nickel and our safety. If we do that then we can be very, very multiple and that’s what we want do. We obviously need some help there. That’s why we go to the portal because we are just young there and we need more depth and a year to get some guys to develop.”
One of the young ones, Jonesboro’s Jashaud Stewart, developed so encouragingly in the spring after lettering as a 2020 true freshman on special teams to be listed first-team at spring drills close.
Now Stewart, 6-2, 240 can interchange with Little Rock Parkview alum Utsey, 6-4, 295, and Williams, 6-5, 260 and sixth-year senior Dorian Gerald and juniors Zach Williams, Mataio Soli among others evaluated by new defensive line coach Jermial Ashley.
Senior starting left offensive tackle Myron Cunningham was asked during last Thursday’s SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. his observations of Utsey and Tre Williams from summer workouts.
“I’ve seen a big jump in our defensive ends, especially from the transfers that we’ve gotten, with Tre Williams and Markell Utsey,” Cunningham said. “Tre Williams is very twitchy and he’s fast. With his knowledge of the game I think he’s going to be one of our better pass rushers this upcoming year.
Markell Utsey, he’s very strong. He can play the end or he can play the three. He flips his hips really well. I think he’ll be a great addition to us.”
Senior middle linebacker Grant Morgan at SEC Media Days commented on Ridgeway’s, 6-6, 325 impact at tackle and the freedom he can provide for Morgan and starting weakside linebacker Bumper Pool to make plays.
“Ridgeway is the type of guy we can go on a three down, and he can hold two gaps in the middle,”Morgan said. “And he’ll make mine and Bumper’s life really easy. He can also be in a four down.
The thing with the three (transfers), and they all three can play both (end and tackle). Their bodies fit both. They’ve played in both.”
Utsey seems especially built to play both.
“We call him Kell,” Morgan said. “Kell’s smart and he’s real strong and he’s really fluid in his hips. They do a back drill where they flip their hips, and the way he flips his hips, it looks like he’s not 300 pounds. That’s really good to see. Tre Williams, he’s very impressive. I think we’re going to see him a lot off the edge this year.”
Pittman counts on the aforementioned players and returnees Eric Gregory, an either-or end or tackle, and tackles Isaiah Nichols and Taurean Carter developing for a nucleus like the depth that Pittman sees in the secondary coached by Odom and Sam Carter.
“If you look at it, we’re setting with three D-linemen, two linebackers, and six defensive backs basically might be a base depth chart for us,” Pittman said. “Certainly, that’s not where we want to stay. We want to be able to play four down line, obviously.” But