FAYETTEVILLE — Safety Jalen Catalon had a very big redshirt freshman season and is now back for another year with spring practices they didn’t have last year due to COVID.
Catalon played in all 10 games last fall. He finished with 99 tackles, including 51 unassisted, two for loss, three interceptions, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one recovered. He is part of what he consideres a deeper secondary this season.
“A whole lot deeper,” Catalon said. “And a lot more effective this year because everybody knows what they are doing. The young guys are picking up on the defense on a quicker basis and starting to learn from us. We’re trying to set the standard. I think they’re starting to pick that up and seeing us progress as a whole. We’re deeper than we were last year and it’s showing so far this spring.”
Arkansas puts as many as six defensive backs on the field at one time. Catalon talked about the versatility of the group.
“Everybody knows what they are doing so we’re able to move around,” Catalon said. “One day you can play middle safety or he might play nickel or boundary safety. Everybody knows what to do. So it’s very versatile for us to move around and easy for the coaches to feel comfortable to call certain coverages because we all know what to do. We all feel comfortable playing with each other and the younger guys are starting pick that up too. It’s making the coaches job easier as far as who he can put in and who is going to step up. The back end is for sure making a lot of progress.”
Sophomore safety Myles Slusher played as a true freshman last year. In six games, Slusher had 15 tackles, including nine solo, one for loss, forced a fumble and recovered two. Catalon likes what he sees from Slusher this spring.
“You can just see the growth in him,” Catalon said. “You can tell he has a year under his belt. He’s starting to pick up on things a lot faster. He’s making plays out there and doing assignments, doing his job and not trying to do too much except for his job. You can see how he’s helping us out. I’m glad he’s on the back end and doing a really good job for us.”
In addition, Arkansas added Jayden Johnson to the safety room at midterm. He is making huge strides this spring according to Catalon.
“He is picking up on things well,” Catalon said. “Behind the scenes, he is not afraid to ask questions. He is going to make sure he knows what he is doing. He is going to be in the film room. He is always in the film room trying to get better. He’s always asking me questions, not even from just a coverage standpoint, but what to do from a defensive standpoint. Just on certain things, things that I have went through so far, but I have just taken him under my wing a little bit and making sure he is good.
“He is definitely picking up on things fast. You can tell he is a baller and he has played the game for a long time. He is starting to realize, too, that you can do that and also know your assignment. Put it together and he is going to be unstoppable. I am excited for his future. He definitely has great things for himself down the road. It’s a joy to have him back there.”
Junior Simeon Blair earned a scholarship after originally walking on at Arkansas. Blair played in nine games last fall. He recorded 23 tackles, including 10 solo and had two pass breakups. Catalon was asked if he’s surprised how Blair has emerged at the safety position?
“A lot of people that see him from the outside would be, but I’m not because I see him from behind the scene how much work he put in the film room,” Catalon said. “Doing drills together and just seeing him progress. Seeing his hunger to get better each and every day. I think we’re the same. We just want to get better each and every day. We’re never satisfied and we watch film together all the time. Figuring out what we can do to get better and do this and do that. I’m just proud of him stepping up on the back end and making plays. I’m glad to see he’s getting the recognition he deserves from the coaches and the outside.”
Redshirt sophomore Malik Chavis has made his presence known some this spring picking off a pass in the first scrimmage and then another one the following Tuesday. He played in seven games last fall and had one tackle.
“Malik is coming along really well,” Catalon said. “I’ve seen him, we came in together as freshman, progress. He was playing corner, then got moved to nickel for a little bit and now playing safety. He’s kind of stayed there and picking up on stuff. He’s another guy who is asking questions and wants to learn. Make sure the right responsibility and make sure he is good.”
As far his own game, Catalon talked about what he wants to improve on the most from last season.
“For me it’s just being consistent,” Catalon said. “Just being a little more vocal. I feel I led more just by the way I played, but I realize my words are more powerful to our defense and they listen. So try to be more of a leader as far as me communicating with guys showing by actions. Just being a consistent player and helping our defense. I feel like I made a lot of plays, but there’s also a lot of plays I left out there last year from watching film with my coach. So I definitely want to be a more of a consistent player making those plays and not leaving them out on the field. Definitely making strides for that.”
Arkansas will return to the practice fields today.