FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Defense is without a doubt the most intriguing story this spring for the Arkansas Razorbacks. An embarrassing 2016 season, an overhauled staff and a brand new scheme have made it so.
So it would be understandable if Arkansas fans leaped into panic mode after the team’s first spring scrimmage on April 8, when the Razorbacks offense racked up nearly 300 rushing yards against the first-team defense.
Exactly 1 week later, things looked quite different. With a slightly altered first-team unit — and, most importantly, more freedom to be aggressive — the Arkansas defense was markedly better in the second scrimmage this past Saturday.
“I thought defensively we played a lot more aggressive today,” coach Bret Bielema said after the scrimmage. “I thought that was based on confidence, but I think we gave them more calls and pressures.”
That was obvious — Arkansas’ front-7 defenders blitzed and stunted in scrimmage No. 2; those things weren’t allowed a week earlier. The first scrimmage also marked the first time this spring that defenders were allowed to tackle offensive players to the ground.
On Saturday, the Razorbacks first-team defense allowed 1 big play, a 51-yard run by sophomore Devwah Whaley. If you don’t include that, the first unit gave up just over 3 yards per rush.
Arkansas defenders recorded 12 “sacks” — quarterbacks, in their green, no-contact jerseys, can’t be tackled — and recovered a fumble.
The secondary played well, especially first-team cornerbacks Ryan Pulley and Henre’ Toliver.
“There was still a couple of big plays, but I think we did minimize those,” Bielema said, adding that there were still some restrictions on defenders that could have contributed to those plays.
Bielema is forbidding his defensive players from tackling low this spring.
So, all of that considered, is the Arkansas defense better? It’s still probably too early to say. The Hogs are through 9 of their 15 spring practices.
Arkansas will not scrimmage next Saturday, so the next time anyone — media or fans — will get a look at the Razorbacks will be Saturday, April 29 in the annual Red-White Spring Game.