FAYETTEVILLE – The Razorbacks definitely will lighten Friday’s practice load easing into Saturday’s scrimmage after a Thursday practice that Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman promised would be heavy hitting.
The hitting promise was delivered said defensive coordinator Barry Odom, meeting media post practice Thursday as did safeties Joe Foucha and Simeon Blair.
“He’s exactly right,” Odom said. “To me, it was our most physical day of camp so far. And our guys responded. I thought that there was great competition.”
Missouri’s head coach from 2016-2019, Odom was asked about Tre Williams.
Williams is the defensive end who played for Odom at Mizzou, transferred to Arkansas along with fellow former Mizzou defensive end Markell Utsey, and stood out with a couple of sacks, Pittman said after last Saturday’s scrimmage.
“I think Tre has shown some things in his pass rush,” Odom said Thursday. “But also from the time that I had him before until now he’s become an every down player. There were times that he was a third down pass rush specialist, and that’s not the case. He’s an every down player now.”
What about Utsey figuring at both defensive end and 3-technique defensive tackle?
“He’s got great quickness and he plays with tremendous leverage,” Odom said. “Those are two qualities that you’ve seen from when he was in high school to now he’s a fifth-year senior. And he’s got a great competitive spirit. He practices the way that it’s supposed to be done.”
The additions of Williams, Utsey and 326-pound nose tackle John Ridgeway transferred from Illinois State have impacted the defensive line. So have the improvements of returnees Eric Gregory, like Utsey a versatile end/tackle, defensive ends Dorian Gerald and Zach Williams, and tackles Isaiah Nichols and Taurean Carter, Odom said.
Senior safety Foucha said the D-line’s improved pass-rush automatically improves the secondary.
“I wanted to talk about this the most,” Foucha said. “Our defensive line, they’ve been making our job way easier, just getting to the quarterback. We ask them every day, ‘How many seconds do y’all need?’ It went from about three seconds to about .9.”
Better able to shoulder his burden now than this time last year coming off shoulder surgery, Foucha after a full summer full steam under strength coach Jamil Walker weighs 205 vs. last year’s 188.
“Last season I couldn’t really lift weights and I felt like that affected me being in the game,” Foucha said. “Now that I’m 205, my bench press went up, my squat went up. I’m at my best that I ever have been.”
Quicker, too, Odom asserts.
“His quickness to me has improved so much,” Odom said. “I think that has to do with Jamil and his staff but also the buy in of Joe and the way he’s attacked this offseason. He’s running extremely well. He’s a very, very gifted player.”
Gifted that he is, when the Razorbacks switch from their 3-2-6 scheme which has room for safeties Foucha and Pine Bluff’s Blair and All-SEC safety Jalen Catalon, Foucha is pressed by former walk-on Blair when Odom omits the third safety and uses his improved defensive line to intersperse a 4-man front.
“I feel like throughout this whole fall camp we (Blair and himself) both have gotten better competing with each other” Foucha said. “We’ve gotten closer as well. We never had a problem competing against each other. Sim works so hard and that only pushes me to work hard. So that’s all we’ve been doing is pushing each other and making each other better every day.”
While Montaric “Busta” Brown returns holding down down corner and “has had a great camp,” Odom said, LaDarrius “Day Day” Bishop and Hudson Clark return after variously starting at the other corner last year.
Clark started the most often last year, including a spectacular three interceptions during the victory over Ole Miss, but Bishop appears leading at present.
“I think LaDarrius has got great straight-line and short area quickness,” Odom said. “You look at his cover skills, he’s long, he’s got really good change of direction and all the things that we’re looking for at that position. It’s a battle and my guess is it will be throughout the season. Hudson Clark continues to make plays and understands how important that position is.”
Odom and new linebackers coach Michael Scherer, who played for Odom at Mizzou, believe they have three senior first-teamers for the two linebacker spots with All-SEC middle linebacker Grant Morgan, weakside linebacker Bumper Pool and middle/weakside swingman Hayden Henry.
Senior Deon Edwards, the fourth very close behind the top three linebackers, has resumed practice after missing a couple of days from an injury during last Saturday’s scrimmage.