FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — It’s too early to tell if Arkansas outside linebacker Gabe Richardson will be an impact player this season.
However, there’s no doubt Richardson will be one of the most confident players on the roster. Asked by the media Wednesday after practice how early he expects to see the field this season, Richardson didn’t hesitate.
“Immediately. Immediately,” he said. “I’m coming with my hat. I’m bringing it. All year long.”
Richardson joined the Razorbacks this summer as a transfer from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. The Decatur, Ga., native redshirted as a freshman at Hutchinson and had 60 tackles, 18½ tackles for loss and 6 sacks last season. He has three years to play his final three years of eligibility.
Familiar with the 3-4
Arkansas will use the 3-4 as its base defense this season. It was a decision made by coach Bret Bielema because he believes it give the Hogs a more versatile plan than the previous 4-3 defense.
Richardson played in a 3-4 defense at Hutchinson, making him the only linebacker on the roster with experience playing in the scheme at the college level.
“The concept is the same thing,” Richardson said. “I’m getting aligned with it, learning the playbook, getting adjusted with the guys. We’re going to play fast, we’re going to play hard.”
Arkansas has tabbed its two starting outside linebacker spots the hog (hybrid DE/LB) and razor (hybrid DB/LB). Richardson’s size (6-foot-3, 239 pounds) makes him an ideal fit at the hog, which is the spot he’s working at with the second team.
Though he has experience in the 3-4, there’s been a learning curve for Richardson since arriving on campus in early June. He’s had to become a better listener while adapting to the style of outside linebackers coach Chad Walker, who was hired from the Atlanta Falcons in February.
“Coach Walker is great,” Richardson said. “Having the experience of an NFL coach coming into your room and into your life. … I never really thought about playing in the league or anything like that, but he’s pushing me toward it.
“Coach Walker coaches [the 3-4] the best. This is the best I’ve ever been coached.”
Walker isn’t the only person teaching Richardson the intricacies of the Razorbacks’ defense. He’s had help from teammates such as Brandon DePrato, Karl Roesler and Randy Ramsey, who is starting at the razor position. Even Jamario Bell has remained a consistent voice pushing Richardson despite being sidelined with a foot injury that recently required surgery.
“Jamario Bell, he’s out right now, but he’s always been on me,” Richardson said. “Since he’s been out with his foot injury, he’ll call me and ask, ‘Gabe, are you in your playbook? Gabe, are you getting things right?’ I’m like, ‘Jamario, I got you. I know I have to step up.’ “
Eating well at Arkansas
The food has been one of the most noticeable differences for Richardson between the junior college level and playing at an SEC school.
On Tuesday night, the coaching staff took their position groups out on the town for dinner. The outside linebackers went to Shogun, an upscale Japanese restaurant known for sushi and steak.
“I bought a real expensive meal,” Richardson said. “I know [Walker] was actually watching exactly what we were eating, but I said, ‘Coach, I’m going to chow down today.’ We gonna eat on the field, we gonna have to eat in Shogun, too.”
That’s not exactly the type of cuisine Richardson was accustomed to at Hutchinson.
“You’d be eating the burger somebody else didn’t eat two days later and you wouldn’t even know,” he said, jokingly.
Upset about Auburn
Richardson wasn’t on the roster when Arkansas surrendered 543 rushing yards in a 56-3 loss at Auburn last October.
However, it’s a sore topic with him and a subject the defense has been using as motivation for improvement. Richardson brought up the poor performance unprovoked while speaking to the media Wednesday. He vowed such an effort would not repeat itself this season.
“Auburn ran for 500 on us,” he said before pausing to take a deep breath and shake his head in disgust. “With this 3-4 defense, we’re going to make a lot more plays. We are going to make sure we stuff the run and we’re going to play sound with the pass.
“We’re going to bring it. We’re not going to sit back and just let the run hit us deep.”
Richardson’s confidence is refreshing to a defense that didn’t have much of it in 2016 while allowing an FBS-worst 39 rushing touchdowns. But what matters is seeing results to match his words. According to Richardson, that’s coming.
“In due time. That’s all I can say. In due time.”