FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema mentioned Monday he’s been “tinkering” with the idea of switching to a 3-4 defensive scheme next season.
The Hogs currently use a 4-3 alignment as their base defense, but also employ a 4-2-5 quite regularly. With all the discussion surrounding the change, SEC Country began to wonder what the defense might look like if the change is made. So, we decided to mock up a starting lineup of our own.
Here’s our projection of Arkansas’ defensive starters in a 3-4 defense next season:
Some of these positions would be virtual certainties, while others are totally up for grabs. Here’s the breakdown of each position group:
Starters: McTelvin “Sosa” Agim may be the most talented player on the team entering next season. He’s a lock to start regardless of the scheme. In the 3-4, he would be ideal for an end spot, which is more of a hybrid mix between an end and a tackle in the traditional 4-3 scheme. Other than Agim, would-be seniors Tevin Beanum (DE) and Bijhon Jackson (NT) should have the best chances to earn starting spots. Beanum has a ton of experience and Jackson has an ideal frame for a nose tackle in the 3-4 scheme at 6-foot-2, 335 pounds.
Other names to know: The starters on the defensive front are often little more than just labels for the Hogs. Even in a shift to the 3-4, the coaching staff would still want depth to rotate players often. Austin Capps will likely play significantly next season and could play either end or tackle in this scheme. He’s already become a contributor as a true freshman this season. Briston Guidry, currently a freshman redshirt, would also be a prime candidate for playing time. He too has the combination of size and athleticism to play either spot. If Arkansas can get Blinn College defensive tackle Javier Edwards (6-3, 338) in the 2017 recruiting class, he would fit well rotating in at the tackle spot. Armon Watts, Jonathan Marshall and T.J. Smith are other potential contributors.
Starters: Dre Greenlaw will start assuming he has no lingering effects from a broken foot he suffered earlier this season. De’Jon Harris, who saw significant playing time as a true freshman in 2016, is another favorite to start at linebacker next season. In a 3-4 system, Randy Ramsey would be an ideal outside linebacker. He has exceptional pass-rushing skills and is athletic enough to succeed in coverage and run support. The other outside linebacker spot would be wide open. For now, we’ll slot Michael Taylor II in as a starter. He is sitting out this season after transferring in late from Riverside (Calif.) Community College.
Other names to know: This season, the Hogs were thin at linebacker for a second straight year. The good news is, the position has become a focal point in recruiting the past couple classes. Alexy Jean-Baptiste, Giovanni LaFrance and Dee Walker all redshirted as true freshmen this season. Jean-Baptiste would be a good candidate to push for a starting spot in the 3-4. At 6-2, 231, he has the ideal frame for an outside linebacker spot in this scheme. Junior defensive end Karl Roesler would likely shift to outside linebacker in 3-4 and contend for playing time. Additionally, Beanum could move to outside linebacker, leaving an opening at end for one of the previously mentioned defensive linemen.
Starters: Henre’ Toliver, Ryan Pulley, Santos Ramirez and Josh Liddell will all be returning starters in the secondary. Toliver and Pulley are considered clear front-runners to start at the corner spots. There aren’t many scenarios where Ramirez or Liddell, though shaky at times, would lose their starting spots on the backend.
Other names to know: Kevin Richardson II will almost certainly find his way onto the field. He’s currently returning from a torn pectoral muscle that cost him nearly all of this season. He’s among the most-reliable defenders on the team and is capable of playing all positions in the defensive backfield. He’ll definitely be the top candidate to start at nickelback when the Hogs deploy five defensive backs. The coaches have said Britto Tutt likely would’ve played this season if not for a torn ACL in fall camp. Expect him to also compete for time at corner.
De’Andre Coley, who rotated regularly at safety this season, will likely do the same in 2017. Among recruits, 4-star safety Montaric Brown is currently the Hogs’ top commit in this class and appears the most likely to compete for early playing time.