Breaking news: Arkansas’ defense will undergo a significant change this offseason.
It’s not the one fans maybe want most, but it’s a very real one. Coach Bret Bielema said during his press conference Monday the Razorbacks will experiment with a 3-4 formation as their base next year.
That’s right. A team severely lacking linebacker depth is going to put more linebackers on the field.
That’s a half-joke. Honestly, it isn’t a bad move, really. Bielema and his coaching staff think highly of redshirt freshmen Dee Walker and Alexy Jean-Baptiste. Bielema mentioned them both by name Monday. Plus, the return of Dre Greenlaw from injury, All-SEC Freshman Team honoree De’Jon Harris and role player Dwayne Eugene provide, in theory, some options. And a 3-4 scheme fits a player like Randy Ramsey, too, who the team wants to use as a hybrid edge pass rusher.
All this is in the planning stages right now, of course. But Bielema is right in that more and more teams are making the move away from the 4-3. Or, at least, they’re using one of those defensive ends in the 4-3 as a speed rusher. A Jason Taylor type.
“I think the offenses you’re seeing, the dexterity to be able to play in space. Have the ability to bring pressure on both sides. Be able to put a little more pressure on the offense by what we do defensively,” Bielema said on the logic for making the move. “I think we have those kind of guys. A guy like Michael Taylor. A guy like Randy Ramsey. A guy like a couple of the guys we’re recruiting that have the ability to run like a linebacker but also able to get a rush at D-end.”
The joke above was that Arkansas lacked depth at linebacker, but, really, the Hogs are going to be short on defensive line bodies next year. Interior guys like Bijhon Jackson and Austin Capps have experience. And McTelvin Agim played more inside than out, too. But at defensive end, Arkansas is losing three of its top players, not including Ramsey (who would certainly be an outside linebacker in a 3-4) and Karl Roesler (who would be a linebacker, too). The only returner with significant experience is Tevin Beanum.
Here’s what it might look like in April:
DE: Tevin Beanum, McTelvin Agim
DT: Bijhon Jackson
OLB: Randy Ramsey, Dwayne Eugene
ILB: De’Jon Harris, Dre Greenlaw
CB: Kevin Richardson, Henre’ Toliver, Ryan Pulley
S: Josh Liddell, Santos Ramirez
That’s not even close to set in stone. It’s just an idea. Arkansas has options at outside linebacker, but not so many inside, so maybe Greenlaw shifts there. Agim is the only truly experienced option at defensive end, so he gets that spot by default. He might slot back inside instead.
A bigger question is who is going to be around to run these things. And will things change if a new defensive coordinator comes to town?
Bielema was asked if coaching shakeups going on right now in college football are affecting Arkansas. They are. Whether the ones already happened altered his plans or not, Bielema wouldn’t say, obviously. He hinted they might have, but when asked specifically about whether there would be changes to his staff, he demurred.
“I do think that, uncharacteristic to years past, there will be a lot more movement after Jan. 1, to be quite honest, because there hasn’t been a lot of head coaching turnover,” Bielema said. “I think there will be assistant turnover around the world of college football that will probably be a little higher than usual.”
Arkansas will almost certainly be among the teams making a change. Not once has Bielema’s staff not had someone move on. It could be for any reason — a better job, someone was asked to leave, whatever. But it’s a near guarantee someone will exit Fayetteville before spring practice comes back around.
As for who, stay tuned.
This Bud’s for you
Bud Foster has been at Virginia Tech since Kurt Anderson was in middle school.
The Hokies defensive coordinator is a legend in coaching circles for his prowess and longevity. Foster started at Virginia Tech in 1987 as a linebackers coach and became DC in 1995. He followed Frank Beamer, the recently retired Tech head coach, from Murray State, where Beamer was Foster’s defensive coordinator. And when Beamer retired last year, Foster stuck around, under coach Justin Fuente.
What’s most impressive isn’t the longevity, though. It’s the numbers. Foster has had one defense, in 21 years, ranked outside the top 50 nationally in scoring defense. One. In total defense, he’s been outside the top 50 twice. And those were 51st and 52nd ranked. Contrast that with Arkansas. The Razorbacks have been inside the top 50 three times since 2008 in total defense.
Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos is familiar firsthand with Foster defenses.
“I’ve played against him three different occasions, two times when I was an assistant coach at Western Michigan and then once when I was the head coach at Central Michigan,” Enos said. “He’s an outstanding coach. There’s a reason he’s been there as long as he has. He’s had a lot of success.”
Enos never beat Foster, though that’s hardly a knock on the Arkansas OC.
Whatever Foster’s done and continues to do, it’s working. And as much as Arkansas’ defense stopping Virginia Tech’s offense will be a talking point, Foster vs. Enos Round 4 might make the game.
- Cole Kelley is largely considered, right now, to be the quarterback of the future. So, when he undergoes even minor back surgery, it’s kind of a big deal. Bielema said it wasn’t an emergency, though, and Kelley should be ready to roll in the spring.
- Kody Walker may get one final go as a Razorback, writes our Trent Shadid. Walker, a sixth-year senior running back, is making progress back from injury and hopes to play in the Belk Bowl. There are some hurdles to cross before that happens, but it’s a possibility.
- Call it excitement or distance, but Virginia Tech is outpacing Arkansas in Belk Bowl ticket sales, writes Matt Jones over at WholeHogSports.
Arkansas track and field took part in the Jingle Bell Rap Challenge on Monday. See it for yourself:
— Razorback XC/TF (@RazorbackTF) December 12, 2016
The Arkansas gymnastics team checked in as nationally ranked in the preseason poll this year, it was announced Monday. The Razorbacks, No. 17 in the country, are one of eight SEC teams in the top 25.
Missouri State handed the women’s basketball team its first loss over the weekend. Lexi Hughes hit a runner with 1.4 seconds left that proved to be the game winner as Arkansas fell to 9-1, 64-62. The Razorbacks’ next game is Sunday afternoon against Northwestern State at Bud Walton Arena.
Yee-Haw! Today in Arkansas
OK, is there a pizza shortage among criminals in Arkansas?
Here, a while back in Little Rock, two armed assailants robbed a pizza delivery guy of his pies. Now, in Jonesboro, three men jumped a deliveryman as he was getting the food out of his car, according to this story from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
This time, though, the pizza guy was carrying. He brandished a semi-automatic handgun and took a shot at one of the three men attacking him. They took off real quick.
The delivery guy was not charged and it’s unclear whether he hit any of his assailants. But good on him.