By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE — Chris “Pooh” Paul Jr. redshirted at Arkansas last fall, but now is ready to possibly see extended action.

Paul, 6-1, 230, did see action in four games thus preserving his redshirt season. He faced Georgia Southern, UAPB, Missouri and then Penn State in the Outback Bowl. Paul the Razorbacks defeated Penn State 24-10. Following Friday’s practice, Paul talked about the strides he made after redshirting in 2021 learning behind Grant Morgan, Hayden Henry and Bumper Pool.

“In my opinion I feel like I’ve made some great stride with the help of Grant, Hayden and Bump last year,” Paul said. “I learned a lot just by sitting and watching them maneuver, watching them talk, make checks. I feel like I made great strides from last year, and this spring, and going into this fall camp.”

Michael Scherer coaches the linebackers and likes the strides Paul has made from 2021 as a true freshman.

 “Chris Paul’s ceiling is extremely high,” Scherer said. “Extremely high. He’s a very, very, very good football player. Chris Paul, it’s all about maturity with him. It’s all about maturity, being disciplined and doing things right when you’re supposed to do them. He’s gradually getting there. With him, it’s not a mental thing at all. It’s a mental toughness thing, the play-after-play ‘can I refocus and not worry about what happened the last play? Maybe I did something wrong, who cares? It doesn’t matter anymore.’ It’s the maturity that when Chris Paul develops that on a consistent basis, he’s getting better.

“Hayden Henry, Grant Morgan, Bumper Pool all did wonders for that kid last year. They did wonders for him. Chris being able to sit in the back of that room and watch those three guys. He might come up here and say I had something to do with it. I had nothing to do with it. He sat there and watched what those guys do and tried to emulate it. Now the challenge is, yeah, Bumper and Drew (Sanders) are here, but Hayden and Grant aren’t here, so can you keep up the pressure you had on you last year to continue to get better?”

Arkansas will conduct its first preseason scrimmage on Saturday and Scherer hopes the team can continue to develop depth at linebacker.

“I think that’s a lot of it, a lot of it is depth,” Scherer said. “In my opinion, we have a lot of talented players, but they’re young. Our biggest challenge behind who we have as starters right now, Bumper and Drew, is maturity. Being able to understand how important some of this stuff is, being able to focus every single play. So, when you talk about the scrimmage, those three freshmen are going to get thrown into the fire. Well, I guess there’s more than three now. Chris Paul is still a freshman. (Jackson) Woodard, I guess he’s a sophomore, but you’ve got Jordan Crook, Mani Powell, and then Kaden Henley is coming along too. Those guys are going to get thrown into the fire on Saturday and see what they’re all about. If I had to guess from the way practice has gone, we’re going to see if those guys are going to help us a lot this year.”

Paul is excited for the scrimmage to show what he can do at linebacker.

“From the scrimmage, we’re just decided to show the coaches what we’ve been working hard for,” Paul said. “We’re excited to show the fans or spectators what kind of season they’re gonna get out of us this year.”

Paul agrees with Scherer that the trio of freshmen linebackers Arkansas signed in the Class of 2022 are all special players.

“Those three guys have made great progressions, especially when they come onto the field,” Paul said. “They’ve picked up things pretty well. We’ve helped them out as soon as they got here. They didn’t take a step back. From Day One they’ve been at a high standard, and they’ve maintained that high standard. So I think they’ve been doing pretty good.”

Crook came from Duncanville (Texas) High School and the Hogs knew they had signed a special player. Paul talked about what he sees in Crook that makes him so good.

 “Crook’s ego is something that’s contagious,” Paul said. “He’s a high energy player. He picks up all his other teammates. He’s just a great example of what you can do when you first get here. He reminds me a little bit of myself. I came in a little confidence, as he was. It took me a little longer to learn the concepts and stuff as he did, but he’s been a great addition to the linebacker room.”

Scherer said Pool stayed mad at him all last year. Paul talked about Scherer as a coach.

“Coach Scherer is a hard coach on you,” Paul said. “He’s going to coach you hard. But that’s the type of coach that everybody wants. You want somebody that’s going to tell you the truth and isn’t going to sugarcoat things. So there are going to be times players are going to get upset with Coach, but he’s just wanting the best out of us, so as far as getting mad and things like that, there were a couple of times. But there has never been a time where they just fell out with each and stopped talking or anything. It’s always been about love and a mutual feeling. Bump has always been grateful to Coach Scherer and the coaching points that he gives him, because Coach Scherer puts us in the best position possible to make plays. So I feel like they have a great bond with each other.”

In the sense that Pool didn’t start but one game last year still made 125 tackles to lead the team give you motivation that if you don’t start you can still thrive in this defense?

“Bump is an excellent leader,” Paul said. “There is never a time that I can’t just ask Bump about a scheme or just sitting down watching film and things like that. Bump helped me a lot last year, he’s still helping me this year understand more about what the defense is trying to do. So, there’s been times that me and him just stood on the sidelines and he’s telling me ‘Hey, you’ve got that gap on this play’ or ‘You’ve got to guard this man here’ or ‘Adjust here, lineup here, it’ll be easier for you to guard your man if he goes this way’ or whatnot. Bump has been a great leader in that room.”

Paul feels that Pool is a natural leader for the defense this season. He and Jalen Catalon both represented the defense in Atlanta at the SEC Media Days.

“Bump is an excellent leader,” Paul said. “There is never a time that I can’t just ask Bump about a scheme or just sitting down watching film and things like that. Bump helped me a lot last year, he’s still helping me this year understand more about what the defense is trying to do. So, there’s been times that me and him just stood on the sidelines and he’s telling me ‘Hey, you’ve got that gap on this play’ or ‘You’ve got to guard this man here’ or ‘Adjust here, lineup here, it’ll be easier for you to guard your man if he goes this way’ or whatnot. Bump has been a great leader in that room.”

As far as Scherer that Paul and all the linebackers during the recruiting process have talked about is how he relates to the players. Scherer played at Missouri from 2012-1016 so he hasn’t been out of the SEC very long himself.

“Coach Scherer is a high-energy guy, you know, I love him to death,” Paul said. “With him playing in the SEC, you know, he played under Coach (Barry) Odom, at Mizzou. So he teaches us the schemes he played with Coach Odom there. And so (when) he teaches us the scheme, he has a better in-depth (knowledge) of what’s going on, because he actually played there and played in it. Just having a coach that actually played in the scheme is a huge advantage because he actually knows how to maneuver in a scheme. (He knows) what tricks and tactics would be best to help a linebacker make plays. So, Coach Scherer’s a great guy, a great coach.”

Arkansas opens the season on Saturday, Sept. 3, by hosting Cincinnati at 2:30 p.m. at Reynolds Razorback Stadium and televised on ESPN.