FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas has a deep linebacker room and that is helping the defense stay fresh as possible in the fourth quarter of games.
The unit is coached by Travis Williams, who is also the defensive coordinator. At this point, five linebackers have seen extensive action. Jaheim Thomas, Chris “Pooh” Paul, Brad Spence, Jordan Crook and Antonio Grier Jr., who has been limited to four games due to an injury, have give Hogs solid play at the position. Sam Pittman praised the unit this week.
“Well, I think we figured out that we can’t play an extreme amount of reps in a row with any of our linebackers, which is not a negative, it’s just we play better if we’re able to play faster and harder like anybody would,” Pittman said. “Obvously 28 – Jaheim – is a guy that’s probably our most consistent right now. But I like where Grier’s coming. He’s finally healthy. That certainly helps us.
“Spence I think played 11 plays the other day in big personnel, 12 personnel. And of course Crook is a guy who’s playing anywhere from 11 to 20 plays a game. So that’s just keeping us fresher out there with Pooh and Jaheim out there. But I have liked the progress. We have gotten takeaways this year, we just need to continue to do that. But I like the progress of that linebacking group.”
Thomas is a transfer from Cincinnati. He leads the Hogs with 48 tackles, 20 solo and five for loss. Thomas has three sacks, two pass breakups and one quarterback hurry.
Paul fought injuries earlier in the season and then was suspended for first half of the Kent State game due to a targeting call in the opener. He has 34 tackles, 17 solo, 3.5 for loss and one sack.
Spence is a true freshman. He has 10 tackles, four solo, recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass in the season opener and returned it 85 yards for a touchdown.
Crook has eight tackles, three solo and forced a fumble. Grier is a transfer from South Florida. He has only played in four of the five games due to an injury and like Paul he was hampered earlier in season due to the nagging ailments. He has five tackles, two solo, recovered one fumble and returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown against Kent State.
Overall Pittman is pleased with how Williams and Marcus Woodson along with Deke Adams and Deron Wilson are getting the entire defense to play.
“They’re getting them to play sound football and hard football,” Pittman said. “We’re giving less and less explosives. We’re where we’re supposed to be. I think our guys are really taking to the fellas and believe in them, and things of that nature. I just think they’re playing hard, and they’re playing sound football. We have a few more players depth-wise than we had last year that are allowing us to do that, I think.”
A good illustration of how hard the defense is playing was the second half against Texas A&M on Saturday.
“Well, the turnovers,” Pittman said. “We got turnovers, and we scored obviously. I felt like we covered them a little bit better. In the first half, we had a couple breakdowns, and they were wide open a couple of times. I thought the defensive staff did a great job of adjusting on that. And I think we got a little more pressure on him. They’ve always played hard. I think getting the turnovers and getting off the field certainly were big for us and the adjustments they made. We just covered them a little bit better I believe.”
Arkansas’ defense will be tested on Saturday night in Oxford when they face a very good Ole Miss offense that put up over 700 yards against LSU this past Saturday. The kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.