By Jason Pattyson

FAYETTEVILLE — Jayden Johnson had a moment that almost all of us have had at one point in our lives, embracing change and preparing himself to lead by example.

Now, he enters his junior season looking to add consistency and increased playing time in what could be the most aggressive defense this state has witnessed in years. He’s ready for the challenge. 

Johnson appeared in 12 games and started seven of those as a sophomore. He returns as the third-highest tackler from a year ago on a defense that ranked first in sacks. He has made strides this off-season to get better and has fit right in with the new culture of this defensive staff. 

“Coach (Deron) Wilson is kind of quiet a little bit,” Johnson said. “He’s going to sit back and chill. But, when you mess up, he’s going to let you know. But it’s what you need, for him to be there, to coach us and tell us where we need to be right at. Then Coach (Marcus) Woodson very high energy, very passionate. He likes to have fun. But when it’s time to be serious, it’s time to get after it.”

The new staff came in and infused vigor into each level of the defense. Coach Woodson and Wilson have been a breath of fresh air this position room needed, and Johnson has been happy with the new transition to the Nickel position.

“It’s different because it’s like three positions in one,” Johnson said. “Everything happens so fast that you must bounce back on what’s next. You have to be a ballplayer. I just keep my head down and work. I trust my coaches and trust my teammates. We all have each other’s back. I’ll get better and keep doing my job every play.”

Johnson feels the new freshmen are ready to make an impact early in the new scheme.

“They’ve adjusted very well,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a thing in the DB room about brotherhood. Everybody gets to know each other. We’re all cool, and when it’s time to work, it’s time to work. That’s a big step we took; everybody we brought in can certainly help.”

Head coach Sam Pittman said he has felt like Johnson and Jeadon Wilson have become leaders. Coach Pittman called them out at the end of last season, and they came back with a new and improved mindset.

“They decided it’s not this guy, it’s not that guy, it’s not the coach, it’s not the culture, it’s not this, it’s me. I’ve got to change,” Pittman said. “They are as hard-working kids as we have. They’ve always had the athletic ability, and some, I think they’ve just decided, ‘Hey, let me focus on me and not this, where I’m at the depth chart, this, that, and the other. And can I become the player that I should be.’ I couldn’t rave any more about those two guys.”

The Razorbacks are ready to test this new defense against Western Carolina this Saturday at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, and kickoff is set for 3 p.m. and will stream on ESPN Plus and SEC Plus.