FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas’ secondary isn’t loaded with upperclassmen, but Ron Cooper and Mark Smith like the options they have there.
Cooper is set to begin his second season with the Razorbacks coming over from Texas A&M with John Chavis. Smith came to Arkansas from SMU with Chad Morris.
Practice begins Friday and Arkansas has one junior, three sophomores and a true freshman at the top of the expected depth chart including the nickel back.
“The guys have worked hard,” Cooper said. “Tru (Carroll) said the guys have done everything asked. They are in great shape. We’ve had everybody here since the freshmen reported a couple of weeks before the 4th. What I understand is they are in great shape and ready to go.
“We were able to spend a little time with them this summer. We’re excited to get started.”
Kamren Curl is a junior who has started 22 games, 11 at safety and the same at cornerback, and is the most experienced defensive back on the team. He is playing safety again this season. Is it scary to a coach to not have more upperclassmen projected to start?
“It’s a good thing,” Cooper said. “We’ve got some young guys that are young, hungry and talented. They are excited and ready to play. They’ve got the talent, but not much game day experience on the field. But those guys were all here in the spring. We had two of the freshmen (Greg Brooks Jr. and Devin Bush) come in January. We were able to teach a little bit this summer. The guys are ready to go.”
Smith works more with the cornerbacks than the safeties, but he too is excited about what Curl brings to the safety spot.
“Kam has really developed and turned into the leader of our secondary,” Smith said. “It’s really from his experience playing. He has got a lot of experience playing the last two years.
“Now he found himself in the leadership role in that DB group and he has really grabbed that and done a great job with it. All the guys look up to him. So when they are looking for someone to speak up and say something he has become that guy. He along with Jarques (McClellion) they have kinda done that together. Kam has really taken that main leadership role. Those two guys have really stepped up in that position and the guys respect them in the room and that carries a lot of weight.”
Arkansas has McClellion and Montaric Brown at the cornerbacks right now. Both are sophomores. McClellion played in all 12 games last year starting nine. Brown played in 11 games and started three.
“Brown will be fine,” Cooper said. “Jarques will be fine. Of course we’ve got some young guys coming in. Malik Chavis will play a little bit out there. Micahh Smith we’re gonna give him a look out there. Devin Bush was here in January. LaDarrius Bishop. So we’re gonna have some great competition during August to see who wins those two spots.”
Smith is a junior who has played safety while at Arkansas. He is now going to get a look at cornerback too?
“He has got to play a little bit of everything,” Cooper said. “He will play a little bit of corner, little bit of nickel and a little bit of safety. We’re gonna make sure that we find the right couple of guys that can lock down receivers and he’s got some talent.”
Brooks is a true freshman who the Razorbacks feel good enough about at the nickel position they could move D’Vone McClure to linebacker in certain situations at the conclusion of spring drills.
“He has got a lot of really natural ability and instinct,” Smith said of Brooks. “We knew that when we recruited him and that’s why it was such a battle with him til the last day. We’re certainly glad he’s here.
“Then being here in January he and Devin Bush, both those DBs showing up early, it has given them an advantage going into training camp. Because now we’ve seen Greg, we know what he can do and the same way with Devin. We kinda have an idea where they are and if they just continue to develop both of them will be special players.”
Joining Curl at safety are Joe Foucha and Myles Mason who are sophomores after playing some as true freshmen.
“Joe and Myles on paper, we consider them as young but they were here all last year and learned every rep as second-teamers,” Cooper said. “Both of them had good springs and had great summers thrown in there at safety with Kam Curl. There’s youth but at least there is a second and third time hearing it. There will be great competition.”
Beyond Curl, Foucha and Mason, Cooper has other options including a talented freshman in Jalen Catolon.
” We signed Jalen Catalon, who can play,” Cooper said. “We were talking about Micahh Smith. There’s two guys, Brendan Young, who’s a walk on I’m fired up about. Nathan Parodi can play corner and nickel who I’m fired up about. Simeon Blair is another walk on. There’s three guys who really have ability and can help us. We’re just going to compete and let them go and put the best group out there. Again, we’re young but there’s some talent.”
Arkansas will practice for the first time on Friday at 6:15 p.m. They open the season in Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 31, hosting Portland State at 3 p.m.