FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas returns the majority of its players from 2020, but gone are Jonathan Marshall, Xavier Kelly and Julius Coates from the defensive line.
In addition, Arkansas has a new defensive line coach in Jermial Ashley. The new assistant has several options including returning players as well as newcomers. At Media Day on Thursday, Sam Pittman talked about what the first unit will look like today when the Hogs hit the practice fields.
“Eric Gregory, Isaiah Nichols, Zach Williams, Jashaud Stewart, that would probably be your starting guys coming out there,” Pittman said. “Behind them you have Dorian Gerald, Taurean Carter, Mataio Soli and (Marcus) Miller. I’ll tell you, Cam Ball has been impressive with his athletic ability this summer. I think he’s going to help us. I don’t want to put pressure on a young guy, but I think he’s going to help us.
“Then certainly when you’ve got Markell Utsey, Tre Williams and (John) Ridgeway, we brought them here for a reason. Two of the three have played in this league and had fine success in this league. Last year we played lot of three down because that’s what we had. Hopefully we can get into more four-down defense. The way we practice is we have two fields going basically all the time, so I think we’re going to be able to find out whom we have fairly fast. And certainly we’re not going to bring in a guy from the transfer portal that we’re going to start Day 1, but if he’s good it might be Day 2.”
Ball was one of three high school defensive linemen signed in the Class of 2021. Utsey and Williams are transfers from Missouri and Ridgeway was at Illinois State. Regardless of who starts Ashley will rotate them and also look for more four-man fronts this season as opposed to 2021. Pittman likes the idea of playing more four-man fronts which should help with the pass rush pressuring or sacking the quarterback.
“I think that’s a big deal for us,” Pittman said. “We’re trying to find our best first. Certainly we’ve added three guys from the transfer portal that we think are certainly going to compete for those jobs as well. I think the defensive line in a nutshell has improved tremendously this summer with their size. You look at Zach Williams, who is about 260 now you know, where he was getting knocked around at about 228-225 last year. I could go on and on about specific guys as far as their weight gain and their strength gain. That room’s got to get better. They know it. The first thing they have to be consistent in their work ethic. I think they’re getting better. They need a leader in that group that’s going to lead by example and hopefully we’ll find that from tomorrow on.”
Other defensive linemen are sophomore Eric Thomas Jr., redshirt freshman Andy Boykin, true freshman Solomon Williams, junior Jalen Williams, redshirt sophomore walk-on Morgan Hanna and true freshman walk-on Jon Hill.
Click here for updated roster.