Odom and the Arkansas defense

By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE — Barry Odom and the Arkansas defense will get a severe test in the season opener against Cincinnati, but the defensive coordinator likes how the team is preparing.

Odom has Ladarrius Bishop, Hudson Clark, Khari Johnson, Dwight McGlothern and Malik Chavis among the players working at cornerback. 

“I’m excited about the group,” Odom said. “You mentioned Day Day, he’s played really well. Malik Chavis has played, he’s still a guy that can rotate and play a number of different spots. Khari Johnson is coming on and has had a really good, solid camp up to this point. Dwight McGlothern keeps coming. His reps were limited after practice 3, I think, because of an injury. But, he’s making his way back and making his presence known when he is out there. He’s doing a nice job. Hudson Clark continues to improve his skillset. His knowledge base is tremendous, and he’s become a leader for us. So, there’s a lot of guys, and I’m probably missing somebody there at that spot, but I like the group. 

“Coach (Dominique) Bowman has done a really nice job with them. I think they’ve all improved what their skillset is. They’ve all improved their knowledge of the defense. That’s one thing with having a chance to be here going on year three, which I’m so thrilled about, guys have been in the system now, the guys that have been here, going on another opportunity to learn the defense. Coaching is teaching. You have to be a great teacher. It doesn’t really matter what I know if they don’t know it and can’t go execute it. So, I’ve been able to throw a lot at them. We’re doing more right now than at any point since I’ve been here and it’s because they can handle it and it’s a veteran group on the back end. I’m sure excited about the progress they’ve made.”

Myles Slusher is one of Arkansas’ top defensive backs and is working first-team nickel. Odom talked about that group.

“At that spot, a lot of versatility,” Odom said. “So, Trent Gordon has played well. Jacorrei Turner came back from an injury early on from the offseason. He came back and has played well. Jayden Johnson has gotten reps there and did again today. A number of guys are going to roll in there, and with Slush being out it allowed those guys to get those reps. It’s something that I’d be naive to think that we would go through a season and think we would not have an injury. I look at it as an opportunity for the next guy to get into that role and step up and go play.”

Odom had the defensive backs do drills with boxing gloves on Thursday. He talked about the reasoning behind that.

“It’s just an emphasis we felt we needed to make,” Odom said. “We’ve got officials at every practice, and you go back and review the practice film. If you’re getting tired, your habits start to slip a little bit. And usually a defensive back when you’re in man coverage, what’s your first reaction? You want to grab a hold, right? It was an emphasis we wanted to make today. I didn’t think there was going to be a fight. We weren’t getting ready for it.  I think it’s something that’s wise to do at a point, because it snaps back your attention and your focus on really your eyes, your feet, your stance, your start and what that’s supposed to look like. That’s one thing that we’ve done for a long time and seen done and I felt it was important for us to break that back out. I can’t argue the calls on the side. It doesn’t do me any good. So we’re just going to try to fix it ourselves.”

Odom said while he has had that drill in past seasons this was the first time this fall. He talked about how it went on Thursday.

“Yeah, I thought it was good for us,” Odom said. “I thought it put us a little bit … made it more difficult for us. But also, we get to teach off of that tape. We’re going to start with stance. We’re going to start with alignment. We’re going to start with eye placement, and then you get into the angles that you’re coming out of breaks and where are your eyes. Is your chin down? And all the things that go into man-to-man coverage. Take the hands out of it and we’re going to teach everything else with that. It’ll be a beneficial thing for us to teach off of this afternoon and into tonight.”

Jalen Catalon, Simeon Blair, and Latavious Brini and Johnson are all safeties seeing plenty of action. Catalon obviously is one of the best in the nation while Brini started 11 games for the national champions last season before leaving Georgia for the Hogs.

“I think so,” Odom said of Brini playing better. “That’s fair for any new player, right? You’re going through a new system and schematic change and terminology and the way we practice. There was some carryover in practice structure it sounds like on the place that he came from. And he’s playing a different spot than he did at Georgia. I like the way that he’s progressing, and I think he’s going to play winning football.”

Johnson saw action as a true freshman last fall. The talented safety from Georgia is in line for another impactful season.

“I think it was important that he did play well last year at times for the experience and what it’s going to allow him to do this year,” Odom said of Johnson. “He’s confident, and I think that takes some time. He’s got great skills. He’s big and long and can run, got good quickness, really good football IQ. Then getting him in the arena and doing it, that takes a little bit of time. He’s a mature competitor. I like the moves that he’s made. He can play a lot of spots. He can play any of the safety spots, he can play the nickel position, so that’s going to help him and help us as a defense, for sure.”

Odom may have plans for Blair beyond his football career as an Arkansas safety.

“Since I ment Sim, first got here as a walk-on, and then has earned a scholarship over time,” Odom said. “He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He is going to be, if I can talk him into it, he is going to be an unbelievable coach when football is over for him. He’s got a great understanding of the game. He’s a terrific leader. He’s got the passion and the competitive spirit of the way you’re supposed to play the game. I trust him. You look at him and Catalon, the way that they talk on the field and communicate.

“They have reached an elite level on what that’s supposed to look like. And the great thing about Blair is he brings it every single day. You know exactly what you’re going to get. I know at 2:15 when I see him, I know exactly what I’m going to get. He’s the same dude every day, and he brings such terrific value to our program.”

Arkansas will return to the practice fields on Friday before scrimmaging for the second time on Saturday.

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