FAYETTEVILLE — Redshirt sophomore linebacker Chris “Pooh” Paul is one of the key returning players for Arkansas as they are set to enter the 2023 season this fall.
Paul started two games in 2022, but received a lot of reps as Bumper Pool battled injuries much of the year before finally having surgery missing the final two games. Paul finished with 62 tackles, 38 solo, eight for loss, four sacks, three quarterback hurries, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Arkansas has three new assistants on defense including defensive coordinator Travis Williams, who will also coach linebackers. One of the leaders for Williams’ first team at Arkansas will be Paul.
“I feel like my leadership role is going to take a huge step this year,” Paul said. “I feel like I’m that guy, one of the older guys on the defense. From the two practices that we’ve had, the defense has had a lot of energy, flying around to the ball and things like that. Coach Williams has done a great job of establishing those rules and things like that and I feel extra confident in my defense.”
Paul explained the differences in defense under Barry Odom and Michael Scherer compared to what Williams is doing.
“Really just the scheme that he brings, things of that nature,” Paul said. “Like I said, everything is just new for us, but we’re just going to take it one day at a time.”
When Arkansas defeated Kansas in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl true freshman Jordan Crook started alongside Paul. Pool had surgery and Drew Sanders opted out of the bowl game declaring for the 2023 NFL Draft.
“Jordan Crook has been doing phenomenal out there — running around, communicating and things like that,” Paul said. “But the thing about Crook, he’s come with more energy than last year. He had energy last year, but it just amped up this year because of his role. His role is going to get bigger this year. He knows that. But he’s also been talking out there, being a vocal leader, as well, alongside me and guys like Antonio Grier and things like that. So he’s been doing great and I’m really impressed with him. I’m excited to see him play this year.”
Grier is a transfer from South Florida who joined the Hogs in January. The Razorbacks also signed three freshmen linebackers with two on campus now. Paul talked about how Grier and the freshmen are doing after two practices.
“Our linebackers came in ready to work, which I expected of them,” Paul said. “But especially Antonio Grier, he’s done a great job of picking up on schemes and things like that, picking up on extra time with coach and just trying to understand things like that. It’s new for all of us with a new defensive coordinator, so we’re trying to get adjusted to what calls to make to this certain formation and things like that, but I can say all the linebackers, especially Antonio Grier, have done a great job just picking up on schemes, picking up on extra time with coach and just trying to understand things like that.
“It’s new for all of us with a new defensive coordinator, so we’re trying to get adjusted to what calls to make to this certain formation, things like that. But I can say all the linebackers, especially Antonio Grier, have done a great job of picking up on schemes and just listening to what Coach has to say.”
It appears Arkansas will run a lot more four-man front in 2023 than it has under Odom. Paul was asked the difference for a linebacker in the four-man front on defense compared to the three-man?
“I feel like the difference is it just frees up the linebackers even more, just gives us time and space to make plays and things like that,” Paul said. “So I feel very comfortable in the four-down alignment actually. I really enjoy it because the defensive line, they open up gaps and scenarios that you wouldn’t think gaps would open up quite as big as they would, but I the four-down, it’s been pretty great.”
Arkansas will practice for the fourth time this spring on Tuesday at 4 p.m.