FAYETTEVILLE – They reported to the University of Arkansas in January in large part to practice Razorbacks spring football in April. It didn’t happen. The national emergency trying to curb the worldwide coronavirus pandemic closed the UA since mid March.
So for December high school graduates Kelin Burrle, the linebacker from Harvey, La.; safety Myles Slusher, Broken Arrow, Okla.; wide receiver Darin Turner, Memphis; and defensive end already moved to tight end Blayne Toll of Hazen, junior college transfer defensive end Julius Coates and quarterback Feleipe Franks, the graduate transfer from the University of Florida and former Gators starter, the opportunity to impress new Coach Sam Pittman and his new Razorbacks staff may have seemed lost.
Not completely though. The coaches, especially new strength coaches Jamil Walker and Ed Ellis, got to be around them enough in the winter offseason and in April make Internet video contact now up to eight hours per week to have some expectations whenever practice is allowed to commence.
Defensively, Slusher and Coates count immediately. The 2019 Razorbacks’ best defensive lineman and best safety, graduated senior tackle/end McTelvin “Sosa” Agim, and turned pro early Kamren Curl, are in this week’s NFL Draft.
Slusher, Barry Odom, the former Missouri head coach and new defensive coordinator/safeties coach, said, “developed his skillset.” “He also is mature,” Odom said. “He’s got a great competitive spirit. His football IQ, I’m really impressed with that. He’s very advanced in his thoughts and understanding of coverage. He’s done a tremendous job in the classroom academically.” Brains and brawn, apparently. “He’s worked extremely hard in the weightroom,” Odom said. “He’s added weight, really good weight. I challenged Myles that I’m not going to look at you like a freshman.”
Obviously Odom looks at 6-6, 291 Coates like the junior upperclassman that he is. Particularly since even from just since January to mid March he’s added 11 muscular pounds. “The work that Jamil Walker and Ed Ellis and their staff have done in our strength and conditioning area has been unmatched,” Odom said. “Those guys have transformed Julius, for one. He’d become bigger, stronger, leaner, faster, quicker. I would say if you had a before-and-after picture of what Julius looked like from the day he walked in to where he was when we cut loose here, he maybe transformed as much as anybody.”
And from junior college film, Odom already had deemed Coates, “long, tall and explosive.” “We’re going to count on Julius being a major factor for us,” Odom said. “That’s the reason we recruited him. I’m really excited what he can do for us.”
Burrle, 6-0, 219 from the same Harvey, La. hometown of now NFL draft eligible former SEC leading tackling linebacker Scoota Harris, “continues to develop,” Odom said.
At receiver, Arkansas’ deepest offensive position, Turner 6-3, 206, has time to develop. “He’s one of those kids that I think this is the first time he’s ever worked in a strength and conditioning environment like the one that we have,” new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles said. “But he’s a big, skilled guy. He’s got a lot of bounce in his legs.”
Coates and returning 2019 injury hardshipped defensive end Dorian Gerald made it easy switching Toll from defensive end to offense at tight end. “We first kind of threw that around during February when we were getting ready for spring ball,” Briles said. “There was more of a need for our football team for him at the tight end position. We asked Blayne and left it up to him. He said he’s more than willing to do anything for our football team, which I can’t tell you how much we appreciate as coaches. Blayne is an extremely gifted athlete. He’s a big, strong, fast-twitch player who loves playing football.”
Losing his Florida starting job via injury, Franks “checks all the boxes,” as a proven SEC player, Briles said. In the Arkansas offseason, Briles said Franks proved himself “a great locker room guy” both meshing with and leading his new team. “We just want to see him throw a football,” Briles said. “That’s the craziest thing, you know? I’ve been around him since January, and I haven’t seen him throw a football because we haven’t had the opportunity to be able to do that.