Arkansas’ Safeties Competing, Impressed With Direction of Defense

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Photo Courtesy: University of Arkansas Athletics

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas has a very experienced team this season with 22 seniors and it is something that should benefit the team when the season begins Sept. 4.

Everyone knows about redshirt safety Jalen Catalon, but Arkansas also has some other talented, experienced safeties. Among those are senior Joe Foucha and redshirt junior Simeon Blair. They are comfortable playing safety in Barry Odom’s defense.

“I fell in love with it because I know my role,” Foucha said. “I know my job. I know what I have to do. Year two in the defense I feel more comfortable and the game has slowed down all the way for me. I just feel like being in this defense you are going to make plays as long as your eyes are in the right spot. You are for sure going to make the right plays.”

Foucha has added weight, from 188 to 205 now, and that has helped him especially coming off a shoulder injury.

“Last season I couldn’t really lift weights, and I felt like that affected me being in the game,” Foucha said. “Not really too much, but now that I’m 205, my bench press went up, my squat went up. So I feel like that helped me on the practice side to be more physical and get ready for the games. I’m at my best that I ever have been.”

Odom likes what he has seen from Foucha so far this preseason.

“He’s much more consistent in every area,” Odom said. “He has tremendous athletic ability. He’s understanding where he fits in the scheme, how to play, the different variations with how we’re calling our coverage concepts in either man or zone. For 12 practices, he has been as consistent and made as many plays as anybody on the field. Very proud of him.”

Odom obviously feels Foucha getting over the shoulder injury he was hampered with last year is a big plus.

“I think a great deal,” Foucha said. “His quickness to me has improved so much, and I think that has to do with Jamil (Walker) and his staff but also the buy in of Joe and the way he’s approached and attacked this offseason. He’s running extremely well. He’s got great quickness, and he’s a very, very gifted player.”

Blair, like Odom, has seen a difference in Foucha this preseason and it’s been a good change particularly the added strength.

“You can tell that the game has started to slow down for him a little bit more,” Blair said. “He’s got his body right. He’s always been a very physical player. This offseason helped him a lot and he was able to get stronger. He’s able to read routes very well and that’s stuff we pride ourselves on, just studying film and being able to see the play before it happens. I feel like that’s what he’s capitalized on the most in this fall camp.”

Blair also feels comfortable at the safety spot.

“As long as you have your eyes in the right spot, and we talk every day, if you just do your job, you’ll make plays,” Blair said. “The way the defense is set up, as long as you’re doing your job, you’ll make plays.”

Blair came to Arkansas as a preferred walk-on, but earned a scholarship and has proven very worthy of it. He was quick to credit some others in the secondary for helping him succeed.

“Guys like Joe, Cat, Busta (Montaric Brown), they just help me,” Blair said. “They give me that knowledge, and they also keep me up at times, even though I was going through some of that stuff last year, then I stepped in and played. It was good to get that experience. I feel like I’m more of an experienced player now and I know the ins and outs of certain stuff.”

Foucha likes what he has seen from Blair.

“I’ve seen Simeon grow since he was a walk-on, and now he’s on scholarship,”Foucha said. “I feel like he had the same energy. He’s always been a hard worker. On the field, he’s got that blue-collar chip. So playing next to a guy like that, it always keeps you going. It keeps that blue-collar chip on my shoulder.”

While all the safeties are learning each of the three positions in case they have to play the opposite one in a game. Foucha explained how the safety position is divided.

“No we kind of – I mean, you know I’m the boundary safety, Simeon’s the field safety, and Cat’s the middle safety,” Foucha said. “But like he said, you know when we’re going against fast-paced offenses, sometimes we might get stuck on the side – you know I might get stuck on the field side, he might get stuck on the boundary side. So I mean we’re interchangeable, we know it all even from the Nickel with Greg Brooks. He can sometimes play safety as well, so I mean that’s the step we took in fall camp you know, with knowing each other’s jobs.”

Talented sophomore Myles Slusher is another player who is in the mix at safety. In the spring, Slusher was also playing some cornerback. Odom loves Slusher’s versatility.

“Athletically, there’s not a lot of guys that can go from safety to play corner, skillset-wise and how we’re playing it,” Odom said. “Slush is one of them. He’s had a really good camp. I know I’ve said that kind of on repeat, but I’m excited about what our guys have done and he’s one of them. He’s able to give us some versatility. I really think he can play all five spots for us. He has spent more time at the safety position through fall camp, but also, we’ve got him some corner work, as well. He’s a guy that can help us in a number of spots.”

Foucha also talked about what he has seen from Slusher.

“He’s been having a great camp,” Foucha said. “He’s got good feet as a safety. He’s been moving back from cornerback to safety. I feel like he can do both. He’s a very physical safety and a physical corner. I feel like the game has slowed down with it being his second year. I feel like he’s going to have a great season was well.”

Blair also has been impressed with Slusher and what he brings to the team.

“He’s playing much faster and he’s a very versatile player,” Blair said. “You can put him at corner, nickel, you can put him at safety, he has great hips, he can stop on a dime and break on any pass, any throw. I feel like he’s a great safety and he’s coming along as he’s getting older and starting to mature.”

Arkansas has two freshmen safeties in Jayden Johnson and Jermaine Hamilton-Jordan. Johnson, 6-2, 220, went through spring drills.

 “I feel like they’re coming along,” Blair said. “Jayden is a young guy but he has a body like he’s been in college three years already. I feel like he’s starting to learn how to use that body, learn how to come down and be more physical and he’s playing faster. I feel the same with Jermaine. He’s getting stronger, he’s getting faster and he’s starting to pick up the plays more and more, and that helps when you get to come in a little early. You get the jumpstart on that.”

Foucha has given Johnson a nickname due to his size and how physical he is.

“(Johnson) is physical,” Foucha said. “We call him Cam Chancellor. He’s an 18 year old and I feel like he’s physically there. He’s got the body type. He’s very physical. He’s 6-3. He’s back there at 220. Mentally, he’s coming along every day in fall camp just being around us. It’s a little different when you make that transition form high school to college. The communication level is at a high standard. I think he’s getting better at that every day and so is Jermaine.”

Arkansas will practice this morning and then hold a scrimmage on Saturday morning.

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