FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Many teams, including several from the SEC, have changed their offense in recent years to better adapt to the times. That’s probably less of the case when it comes to defenses, but that’s what Arkansas will be doing this season with that idea in mind.
Still, there’s some progress to be made in that transition from a base 4-3 to a 3-4 defense this spring.
Following last week’s first spring scrimmage, new defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said as much this week.
“It wasn’t as good as I would have liked,” Rhoads said, “but it never is.”
In the scrimmage, the Arkansas defense had its struggles, though it should be noted that the unit did not at all move out of its base look and the players weren’t allowed to tackle low.
Under former defensive coordinator Robb Smith who left in January to take the same position at Minnesota, the Razorbacks defense regressed.
After finishing 10th nationally (323.4 yards per game) in total defense in 2014, it dropped to 58th (391.6 yards per game) in 2015 and 75th (426.6 yards per game) in 2016.
The Razorbacks also finished 85th in scoring defense (31.1 points per game), 58th in passing defense (221.2 yards per game) and 94th in rushing defense (205.46 yards per game) this past season.
But Rhoads, who was hired before last season to serve as defensive backs coach, said he has seen a heightened intensity in this group.
“Competition between the players is there everywhere you look,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it is a returning starter or not.”
Scheme aside, depth could again prove to be an issue for the Arkansas defense. Last season, the Razorbacks were short on a solidified replacement for linebacker Dre Greenlaw after he missed the entire second half of the regular season because of injury.
Regardless of a player’s standing on the depth chart, Rhoads wants them to be ready because of a preference to use as many players as possible to contribute.
“I’m philosophically a believer in playing 22-plus guys,” Rhoads said. “I think it keeps you healthy and it keeps you fast.”
With linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves, he isn’t worried about the new scheme and departing players.
“For the inside linebackers, you might think it’s a whole lot different but really it’s not,” Hargreaves said. “There are some things that are very similar to what we were doing before.”
Along with Greenlaw, Dwayne Eugene, Grant Morgan, De’Jon Harris, Dee Walker, Giovanni LaFrance and others are going to be counted on the fill the linebacker spots.
“The best players are going to play regardless of where they are on the depth chart,” Hargreaves said.
The real first barometer of the new defense will take place on April 29 when Arkansas holds its spring game. At that point, it should become clearer on how it might fare this season.
(You can follow Tye Richardson on Twitter @TyeSportsRadio)
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