FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Gabe Richardson appears to be set for a big junior season after not getting as much action as expected in 2017.
Richardson is working at first-team defensive end this fall. In 2017, he only saw action in four games forcing a fumble in the season opener that was returned 18 yards for a touchdown by defensive back Henre' Toliver.
The defense is expected to be much better in 2018. Richardson talked about Saturday's scrimmage, which was the second one of the preseason.
"For the defense last week our intentions were just to play with great effort and intensity," Richardson said. "As long as we get 11 hats to the ball, we had the positivity going. This week our focus was getting into great alignments, great assignments, great technique. I felt that 75 percent of that we executed. Other times we got tired and discipline started to lack. But that’s something we’ve got to improve on."
On Saturday, John Chavis talked about the defense not tackling as well as he had hoped. What caused that?
"When guys get tired the technique goes out the door," Richardson said. "We’ve got to do a better job at that. Tackling has got to be something that we do. All the guys were recruited here, there’s a reason they are here, because they can tackle. You have to do it when you’re tired, too."
Richardson, Randy Ramsey and others are playing well enough at defensive end it has allowed junior McTelvin Agim to move inside. A newcomer who is in a similar situation that Richardson was in a year ago in that he's just coming in from junior college is Dorian Gerald. He's expected to help at defensive end this season, but how is he doing now?
"For a guy that missed all the summer workouts it’s kind of hard for him to get in SEC conditioning," Richardson said. "But he’s going through it and continuing to go through it with Coach (Steve) Caldwell. I’m just trying to help him out.
"He’s got the playbook down. He’s got to learn how to play when you’re tired. And he’s going to continue to do that and to play lower. He’s strong. He’s going to be a great asset to us."
Another player who seems to be benefiting from the new coaching staff is junior Jamario Bell. Bell was moved around a lot under the previous staff spending time at tight end and outside linebacker in addition to defensive end. He has settled in at defensive end and it seems to be paying off.
"For a guy that’s 6-6 and as athletic as he is, Jamario is going to spark," Richardson said. "That light is going to shine when he has a chance. He’s really got a great chance this year to show what he has."
True freshman defensive end Courtre Alexander drew praise from Chad Morris on Saturday. Nick Fulwider is another true freshman who has caught Richardson's eye in practice.
"Hey, Nick is one guy who is just going to splatter people every single time," Richardson said. "With him being 6-7, 260. That boy is strong. He can put a shoulder on you any time. We go through camp and he goes four or five straight days in row hard contact every time, Nick likes that. And he’s a freshman. Coach calls him Deatrich Wise all the time."
Has the light come on for him in recent practices?
"He’s very explosive," Richardson said. "During the summer we worked on his pad leverage and how it shoots out. He’s shooting his hips. He’s going to be a lottery pick at some point."
With the returning players at end plus the addition of Gerald and the two freshmen, is there enough depth there to allow Agim to stay inside?
"We do and if we need him to step back out he’s going to do it," Richardson said. "He understands how good of a good he is.
"Sosa can line up wherever they ask him to. Wherever he really wants, he’ll shine. He knows the defense like the back of his hand. He’s big enough, strong enough, fast enough."
Richardson talked about why he thinks this defense can be better than the one last year.
"Getting more bodies to the ball," Richardson said. "Getting more bodies to the ball. That’s the No. 1 thing. After that, everything else will come."
Morris is expected to name a starting quarterback in the upcoming days. How big for the defense to know who the starting quarterback is?
"Speaking for us on the guys on defense we just want to hold up our end and the offense will do it as well," Richardson said. "We want to do our part to get three and outs, create some turnovers and win some games. Whoever they put back in the pocket we understand that’s who they trust in the offense and who the team is going with this season."
Richardson noted that it's not just the defensive ends that seem to have gotten deeper and better since last year. He also talked about the linebackers and secondary.
"Those guys have really stepped up," Richardson said. "Bumper Pool, I talked to him earlier in the day. He started out to be the fourth Mike on the depth chart and now with guys out with certain injuries and other things he stepped up today with Dre out and he started with the ones. He communicated a lot and he plays fast and he plays smart. Now he’s going to get the chance to play. That spot has been open. Hayden Henry has played well. Gio LaFrance as really stepped his game up this year."
Richardson was asked about how big it is this year to be involved in the hunt for first-team end after only limited duty in 2017?
" It’s in the past," Richardson said. "It’s in the past. I do have a chip on my shoulder about it. I just want to continue to move forward and play. And play fast and play to the potential."
The season will start two weeks from today. How long before Richardson feels the team is ready to play a game?
"Keep pushing guys what they can be," Richardson said. "You want to make practice way harder than a game so when it comes game time things will come easier. So when you push guys that are over 250-plus and they are running hard to the ball, seven or eight plays, if it’s 190 degrees on the turf we don’t care. We’ve got to play."
Richardson came to Arkansas after one season at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College.
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