FAYETTEVILLE — Derrick LeBlanc is Arkansas’ new defensive line coach and he is pleased to be in Fayetteville.
LeBlanc has several new defensive linemen in the Class of 2020 to work with including the lone junior college signee in the class. Former East Mississippi Community College defensive end Julius Coates is enrolled in classes and will go through spring drills.
“He’s bigger than a lot of the guys in the room already,” LeBlanc said. “He’s played quarterback, tight end and just about everything. He’s got some learning to do, but I think his abilities are through the roof. I think once he learns how to play football at this level I think he’s gonna be a good football player for us.”
Arkansas signed seven defensive linemen in the Class of 2020. The addition of former Clemson defensive tackle Xavier Kelly came after this interview. But LeBlanc was asked about the linemen at that point which six had signed.
“I would like to take credit for it,” LeBlanc said. “But when I got here Coach (Sam) Pittman had already done such a great job of already getting guys in. Blayne (Toll) was signed, Jashaud (Stewart) was signed, Catrell (Wallace) was signed already so we had guys already in the boat.
“Jaqualin McGhee was a kid we had evaluated at the University of Kentucky. He didn’t really fit the scheme of what we were doing. Now he’s here with us. I’m glad he’s here. He’s a really good football player. I think the pieces were already there and that goes to the kinda man Coach Pittman is and Barry Odom being there already. The ball was really rolling and I’m glad we got the guys we got.”
LeBlanc was quick to give credit to Pittman for him now being at Arkansas.
“That was kinda struck my interest in Arkansas,” LeBlanc said. “The head coach was an offensive line guy, a trenches guy. That has always been intriguing to me to see how that’s gonna work out. That’s the most important thing in this conference it’s a trenches league. The guys are big, physical, can run and having the ability to play good defense and recruit big people is half the battle to winning in this league.”
LeBlanc was impressed that Arkansas was able to sign so many big defensive linemen.
“It’s so difficult to find the right big people in college football period,” LeBlanc said. “Defensive linemen are hard to find. I think we know who they are, but there’s just not a lot of them. So they’re hard to get. But this place has always put out good defensive linemen. Being in the SEC West this is kinda the mecca of defensive line play. I’m excited about that.”
The former Kentucky assistant is looking forward to spring football. He has an interesting philosophy on practicing.
“I was telling the guys the other day I love to practice,” LeBlanc said. “Practice is where I enjoy the most. Game day they are playing and there’s not a lot for a d-line coach to do on game day. But developing and helping these guys become better that’s where my passion is. I like being on the practice field. I like teaching. Coaching is teaching and motivating guys to learn a skill. I take pride in that.”
Having been in the SEC East, LeBlanc is obviously very familiar with Odom who was formerly the head coach at Missouri for four seasons.
“Barry is a defensive guy,” LeBlanc said. “Having the opportunity to coach against Missouri the last few years their defenses has been good. His defenses were good at Memphis and good when he got back to Missouri. So his track record is really good and I’m excited about that.”
Arkansas has fallen on hard times in recent seasons. They have won eight games the past three years combined. LeBlanc looks at it as an opportunity.
“That’s a challenge,” LeBlanc said. “I think that’s why we do it. Not very often you get a job where it’s just a bunch of roses right? You get a job there’s some issues and I think that’s what a lot of coaching is. Finding the problems, identifying the problems and then fixing the problems. This is gonna be a great challenge for us. I think it can be done.”
LeBlanc is working on getting to know the players already on the team. Since he was on the road recruiting shortly after being hired he hasn’t had a chance to get to know his players that well.
“I’m trying to get to know them on a personal level,” LeBlanc said. “Before football even starts get to know who they are. Again, having them know who I am. There’s just such a big relationship factor in it. We’re not gonna know each other overnight. It’s gonna take, it’s like David it’s gonna take some time to figure out who your partner is. So that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re spending time with them, meeting with them one-on-one, calling and getting to know their parents. What does momma really know about her kid? Talking to mommas, what makes your kid go and what makes your kid shut it down? All those things I think are so important with today’s kids.”
(Editor’s Note: This is Part 10 of a 10-part series taking a closer look at each assistant coach at Arkansas.)
Click here for Part 1 (Jon Cooper, TE)
Click here for Part 2 (Sam Carter, CB)
Click here for Part 3 (Jimmy Smith, RB)
Click here for Part 4 (Rion Rhoades, LB)
Click here for Part 5 (Kendal Briles, OC-QB)
Click here for Part 6 (Brad Davis, OL)
Click here for Part 7 (Barry Odom, DC)
Click here for Part 8 (Justin Stepp, WR)
Click here for Part 9 (Scott Fountain, ST)