FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The Arkansas Razorbacks’ defensive linemen have a new position coach — and also have to master the new 3-4 base scheme that coach Bret Bielema hopes turns things around.
There are fewer defensive linemen on the field in a 3-4, but the guys out there are immensely important. New position coach John Scott Jr. is still working to figure out what his best starting unit looks like.
“I feel like I have a decent handle on things,” Scott told SEC Country in a recent interview. “I’ve been around those guys for several months now, but obviously as you continue to go along, you learn even more. I do think I have a good grasp of what each guy is capable of and who they are as a person.”
Arkansas lost several key players — Deatrich Wise Jr., Taiwan Johnson, Jeremiah Ledbetter and JaMichael Winston — from its 2016 team. But the Hogs do return an important D-lineman in sophomore McTelvin “Sosa” Agim, one of the most talented football players Arkansas has recruited in several years.
Scott said that in the Hogs’ new system, the two defensive ends “are basically mirror. It’s the same technique, the same man on key.” The nose guard is immensely important on defenses with three-man fronts.
Today, we continue SEC Country’s look at every position — and every player — on the 2017 Arkansas football roster. We will examine a different position group each day until the start of fall camp.
Here is our look at Arkansas’ defensive linemen:
1. McTelvin “Sosa” Agim — sophomore
Glance: Agim was a 5-star prospect and played in all 13 games as a true freshman, starting the final five contests of the season. He had moments when he displayed his incredible talent but still obviously has a long way to go before he reaches his full potential. He is a defensive end in this system, although Scott said he could — in some situations — play inside.
Last season, Agim recorded 27 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss. He probably has the most pure talent of any player on the entire roster.
Defensive line coach John Scott Jr. says: “Sosa’s done a really nice job learning the new techniques and learning the defense. Sosa’s a very powerful and explosive kid. He does some things naturally that you don’t have to coach.”
2. T.J. Smith — sophomore
Glance: Smith redshirted as a true freshman in 2015 and appeared in only five games last season but has a ton of potential, and ended the 2017 spring as a starting defensive end opposite Agim. The Moultrie, Ga., native will have to fight off several other talented defensive ends but put himself in good position to be a starter moving forward with his spring performance.
3. Armon Watts — junior
Glance: Watts appeared in 11 games as a redshirt freshman in 2015 but made just one appearance — in a November win at Mississippi State — during his sophomore season. Scott alluded to an undisclosed health issue that might have kept Watts from contributing last season, but he appeared to be a serious contender for a starting defensive end spot this spring.
Scott says: “Armon’s a big guy. He’s strong when he gets his hands on you. Armon has done a nice job really getting back into playing football. He had a deal where he was kinda out and not as healthy because he had an issue going on, but now he’s healthy and he’s able to lift and run and get strong again. He carried that over to spring.”
4. Briston Guidry — redshirt freshman
Glance: Guidry was one of the most talented members of Arkansas’ 2016 signing class but redshirted last season, which was probably a good thing considering the Hogs’ depth and experience up front in 2016. He was recruited as a defensive tackle but fits in more as an end in the new 3-4 defense. He is definitely a player to watch this fall and could certainly end up in a starting role.
Scott says: “T.J. Smith and Briston Guidry both have a lot of upside. Those two guys have been working more at that end spot.”
5. Michael Taylor — junior
Glance: A JUCO transfer, Taylor signed with the Razorbacks last summer but took a while to actually get enrolled, forcing him to be just a practice player in 2016. He began the 2017 spring as an outside linebacker but had moved to defensive end by the spring game. He is a talented player still trying to find his place in this defense.
Scott says: “Mike’s a really good pass rusher. I’m excited about having him. We can put him out on the edge and let him rush the passer.”
6. Jake Hall — junior
Glance: Hall — from nearby Springdale, Arkansas — appeared in 12 games last season, mostly playing on special teams. He didn’t appear to be in the three-deep this spring during the scrimmages and portions of practice open to the media, although Daytrieon Dean’s decision to transfer could give Hall a chance to move up the depth chart.
7. David Porter — freshman
Glance: The Little Rock, Ark., native earned a late scholarship offer from the Razorbacks just a couple weeks before National Signing Day and flipped his commitment from Colorado State. He’s still a raw talent and needs some development. Scott said he expects that Porter will redshirt this season.
1. Bijhon Jackson — senior
Glance: The El Dorado, Ark., native has never started a game during his Arkansas career but expect that to change in the 2017 season opener. He’s made 38 appearances since becoming a Hog and ended the 2017 spring as the first-team nose guard — an extremely important position in the 3-4 defense.
Jackson seems to have the perfect body type to excel at nose guard in the 3-4. He will surely continue to battle Austin Capps (see below) for the starting spot, but Scott said it really doesn’t matter much who starts in that position because he will need both of them to play close to equal snaps.
Scott says: “We feel really good about Bijhon Jackson and Austin Capps playing that nose guard position for us. Both of those young men did a good job in the spring, and you need at least two in this league to get through the season.
“It’s tough to get the best you can get out of those guys when they’re getting 45-50 snaps a game, being asked to stop the run, rush the passer. So, if you can find a nice rotation mix where each guy is basically playing half the game, I think that’s really good.”
2. Austin Capps — sophomore
Glance: Capps played in 12 games last season and ended up as one of the more capable true freshmen on the 2016 Arkansas team. The Star City, Ark., native finished with 12 tackles. And as you read above, he is expected to play — and play a lot — in 2017, even if he doesn’t start.
Scott says: “I don’t think it really matters who the starter is. You’ve gotta have a starter to go out there, obviously, and right now Bijhon is the starter, but Capps is gonna play a lot.”
3. Jonathan Marshall — redshirt freshman
Glance: Marshall — from Shepherd, Texas — redshirted last season but has shown flashes in practice. He came to Arkansas as a defensive end, but he gained a lot of weight — he weighed around 275 pounds when he signed and is now listed at 310 — during his redshirt year. Marshall worked as the third nose guard for much of the 2017 spring.
Scott speaks very highly of Marshall, so it will be interesting to see how much he is able to contribute this season, especially if he has to play behind Jackson and Capps.
Scott says: “I’m really high on Jonathan Marshall. I think that kid’s upside is tremendous. He is a strong — country strong — kid. And he’s deceptively quick.
“We want to get a 7- or 8-man rotation and keep guys fresh, so Jon Marshall is a kid that we’ve gotta have continue to come on. I thought he had a good spring. We’re gonna need him.”