Arkansas Still Juggling Defensive Backs

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FAYETTEVILLE — Greg Brooks and Simeon Blair have started several games this season for Arkansas, but neither started against UAPB.

Redshirt sophomore Malik Chavis and true freshman Jayden Johnson started at the nickel and dime spots in the secondary. On this week’s depth chart, Blair is listed behind Joe Foucha at one of the safety spots. Brooks and Johnson are listed as or as far as who will start at the nickel. Chavis is behind Myles Slusher at the other safety.

On Monday, Sam Pittman talked about how Brooks and Blair handled not starting in the last game.

“Greg has been a man about it,” Pittman said. “Obviously when you, I hate to say lose your starting job, but when you get replaced you have two options. You can go either beat the guy back out or mope and pout and guarantee you’re not going to beat him out. I think with Simeon Blair and Greg both I think they both, ‘hey I see what I need to do so I can correct to get back on the field.’ They’ve had great attitudes. Greg specifically had a really, so did Simeon, good practice yesterday. You can’t beat somebody out pouting and neither one of them has done that. They’ve gone back trying to win their job back.”

Foucha talked about what he has seen from Brooks.

“I mean, you know, he’s the same player,” Foucha said. “That hasn’t affected him at all. It’s always good to see a younger guy get their first start. I mean, it helped Jayden out a lot with his confidence. And Greg is one of those guys who brings him along every day at practice. They basically play the same position, so he gets a lot of knowledge from Greg Brooks. We’re all one room. We don’t let that affect us. We all grow from those situations and move on.”

Both Slusher and Chavis had interceptions against UAPB. No matter who starts at the nickel against Mississippi State on Saturday night they will have their hands full against Mike Leach’s offense.

“It’s hard because you have the screen in there,” Pittman said. “You’re also contain for us. Then you’ve certainly got to be aware of all the crossing routes they have and the stop routes they have. It’s a hard position to play most of the time, especially against Mississippi State. But I think we’ll be ready to do that. We’ve got to have help. If they catch the ball out there in the flat, we’ve got to rally around the ball. We have to get a lot of bodies to the ball and understand, again like I said, where our help is coming from.”

Slusher is a sophomore from Broken Arrow (Okla.) High School who was highly recruited coming out of high school. He has replaced talented redshirt sophomore Jalen Catalon at safety following the season-ending surgery to the All-America candidate. Pittman is pleased with his progress.

“I think so,” Pittman said. “I think he’s doing about what I thought he would do whenever we recruited him. The problem was he had a lot of injuries his first year here and then had a lot of injuries at the beginning of this year, too, or he would have played a lot more ball than what he has. But fortunately for us, he got healthy about the time Cat had to have his shoulder surgery. I think he’ll just continue to get better and better. He’s very talented, very physical. He’s still thinking back there instead of reacting a little bit and that gets him behind some routes at times, but he’ll continue to improve that, I have no doubt, because he’s talented and he cares.”

Slusher admitted the injuries were frustrating, but glad he’s healthy now.

“It’s been tough just having to get treatment and everything,” Slusher said. “I thought of it like a minor setback. I can’t just get down on myself. I have to get past it. I’ve always seemed to look past it and get through it by mentally being focused with football. So if I’m not there physically on the football field, I can mentally be there with my teammates.”

Slusher knows he and the other defenders will be tested this week by Mississippi State’s offense. They put the ball in the air a lot.

“Yes it’s definitely more exciting,” Slusher said of facing passing team. “Just making plays that’s all we have to do. Just make plays, but it’s definitely exciting know the ball is going to be in the air more often than other games so yes.”

How much has Catalon helped you while he is getting over his surgery?

“He’s helped me a lot,” Slusher said. “He’s an older guy. I’ve always looked to him for guidance whenever I needed help with something on the field. So he’s definitely like….he talks in my ear a lot just telling me stay, stay focused, don’t get down on some of those plays. So he has been a lot of help.”

In the 21-14 victory over Mississippi State last season in Starkville, Foucha had two interceptions and Brooks had a pick-six. Pittman hopes history repeats itself there.

“I hope so,” Pittman said. “I hope it just brings some confidence. Again, we have a lot of guys that played against them last year. Certainly they have a lot of returning starters coming back, too. I think maybe eight or so. It’s just two pretty good teams, I think. Both 5-3, both of us had some big wins this year. I’m glad we have them here. I’m glad our crowd, hopefully, I’m sure they’ll make a difference in the game. We need them here, certainly. I think playing them last year and having some success, that will certainly help us some.”

The kickoff is set for 3 p.m. on Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

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