FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ defense has a lot of new things this spring including three coaches with Travis Williams now the defensive coordinator.
After 15 practices, it appears the defense made good strides this spring. Sam Pittman has said that Williams will produce an aggressive defense and Saturday was no different. The team recorded 10 sacks.
“It’s nothing more than what we’ve seen all spring,” Pittman said. “You know how it is, you can make a mountain out of a mole hill one way or the other. If you’re giving up sacks, then you don’t have any tackles that can block them. I just think we’re pretty good at defense. I think we’re pretty good at the offensive tackles, too. It’s just we put them in pretty hard situations with situational football that we had, too. But Nico (Davillier) got a lot better. I think we got a lot better as a team and per man, but Nico really showed out as well.”
Davillier, Landon Jackson and Jon Hill each had two sacks. Linebacker Chris “Pooh” Paul had his usual good game on Saturday finishing with seven tackles, including one for a loss. He gave his thoughts on the defensive improvement this spring.
“I feel like this spring was phenomenal in my opinion,” Paul said. “From practice one to practice 15 we got better. As we all know we got a whole new defensive staff but I felt like the defense picked up pretty well on it and today we just flew around and had fun in front of the fans and showed them how hard we’ve been working this spring.”
Jackson had sacks of five and nine yards. He also talked about the progress this spring.
“I thought we had a pretty good scrimmage,” Jackson said. “There were some mess-ups but that’s always going to happen when you have a whole new staff, new defense and everything. But I think we flew around really well. We came out of the scrimmage injury free so that’s a plus.”
Jordan Crook got a headstart on this season when Drew Sanders opted out of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. On Saturday, he finished with a team-leading 10 tackles and 0.5 sack. Paul talked about how Crook has responded to a larger role this spring with both Sanders and Bumper Pool gone.
“He definitely has,” Paul said. “Crook has came in working harder than he did last year, and I like that about him. Crook is a hard worker anyway. So for him to pick up where he left off last year and continue that progress is great.”
Among others, Paul and Crook have been joined by USF transfer Antonio Grier Jr. at linebacker. On Saturday, Grier had five tackles and a pass breakup.
“Antonio has been a great addition to our linebacker room in my opinion,” Paul said. “I feel like anybody on the defense would say that. He’s a high energetic guy that just loves football. That’s the type of guy that you can go to and just watch film for hours. As far as how he worked this spring, he worked his tail off, man. And it shows. He picked up on the defense pretty well. He flies to the run and he communicates.
“That’s the biggest thing with a linebacker. We’ve got to communicate because we are the quarterback of the defense. So we’ve got to communicate like that and he picked up like that. And just having him in the linebacker room has been great.”
Arkansas is extremely deep at Jackson’s position. Jackson, Davillier, John Morgan III, Trajan Jeffcoat, Zach Williams and Jashaud Stewart all should make an impact this season. Jackson likes the depth on the team.
“I love it,” Jackson said. “It’s going to keep every single one of us fresh all through all the games. We’ll go into the fourth quarter just as hard as we are in the first. And that will be really good for our whole defense overall. The faster we get to the quarterback the less time the DBs have to cover and I think we’ve got the guys that can do it. So I’m really excited for this season to come.”
Jackson didn’t have to think long when asked who impressed him on defense this spring. He was sitting next to Paul in the interview room.
“I would say him,” Jackson said of Paul. “He brings that energy every day. Never has an off day. Everybody has bad days, but he comes in the locker room and you wouldn’t suspect it. Whenever he’s on the field he’s just there to play football and go to work. That’s what he has done every day of spring.”
Paul also offered up a couple of players who really impressed him in the spring and both were new transfers.
“I would say a guy that really just came in and really caught the attention would have to be Snaxx Johnson,” Paul said. “Snaxx Johnson has really came in and impressed me as well as other some other guys. Antonio Grier, like I was saying earlier, I already gave my spiel on Antonio, But as far as Snaxx he came in. I just love a DB that is physical. Yeah, a DB that can cover you would expect that from a DB. But having a DB that can cover as well as come downhill and set edges and things like that and make plays. That’s a gem and that is what Snaxx has showed me. He showed me he can have the energy, he has that dawg in him for real. Snaxx has been that guy that just really caught my eye. I’m so ready to play Saturday’s with him it ain’t even funny.”
Arkansas will open the season on Saturday, Sept. 2, in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium against Western Carolina.