FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — A former Big 12 head coach has taken over the Arkansas secondary for 2016, and the group he inherited has lots of potential considering its returning experience.
The Razorbacks bring back several players who have significant career starts for new position coach Paul Rhoads, who inherited the Arkansas secondary after seven seasons leading the Iowa State program.
Continuing SEC Country’s nine-part series looking at Arkansas’ 2016 position groups, here is a glance at the Razorback defensive backfield.
Names you need to know
Jared Collins (redshirt senior), DJ Dean (senior), De’Andre Coley (redshirt junior), Kevin Richardson (redshirt junior), Josh Liddell (junior), Henre’ Toliver (junior), Santos Ramirez (redshirt sophomore), Ryan Pulley (sophomore), Willie Sykes (sophomore), *Britto Tutt (sophomore), *Deon Edwards (true freshman), *Micahh Smith (true freshman)
* — Indicates a 2016 newcomer
The Paul Rhoads era at Iowa State ended last November with his firing after a few disappointing seasons, but make no mistake — Rhoads is a very good coach. Iowa State is a tough place to recruit and a tough place to win in the Big 12 Conference.
Rhoads became a viral sensation because of his postgame speeches after a 2009 win over Nebraska and a 2011 win over No. 2 Oklahoma State. Those “I am so proud!” speeches made Rhoads such a popular figure in Iowa that President Barack Obama referenced him during a stump speech in Ames during the 2012 election cycle.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema hired Rhoads in February to coach his secondary after former DBs coach Clay Jennings took the same position at Texas.
Can Rhoads’ motivational skills make a difference with the Arkansas secondary in 2016? Maybe, but it’s his coaching skills that probably matter a little bit more to Razorback fans.
Arkansas finished ranked 116th in the country in pass defense last season, allowing 275.2 passing yards per game, but between a new coach and the defensive backs the Hogs bring back in 2016, there is certainly the chance that those numbers could improve dramatically. (One could also argue that the play of the linebackers last season was at least partially responsible for the team’s poor pass defense.)
At the cornerback spots, Arkansas returns seniors Jared Collins and DJ Dean as well as junior Henre’ Toliver, all of whom have significant starting experience. Sophomore Ryan Pulley made 10 appearances last season with one start, as well.
The Hogs also added junior college transfer Britto Tutt to the mix at corner, and he will have three seasons of eligibility after playing just one at Ventura (Calif.) College.
Collins and Toliver were the first team corners in Arkansas’ spring game, although Dean missed the bulk of spring football practices with an injury.
Arkansas loses strong safety Rohan Gaines, who started 39 career games, but brings back Josh Liddell and Santos Ramirez, who went back and forth as the team’s starting free safeties last season.
Entering 2016, it appears that Liddell and Ramirez will be on the field together as Arkansas’ two starting safeties, and their combined importance to the overall success of the team can’t be overstated.