FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Redshirt senior Simeon Blair is one of Arkansas’ most experienced safeties and brings a lot to the position for Barry Odom.
However, while Odom enjoys coaching now he has more plans for Blair when his playing career is finished.
“Since I met Sim, first got here as a walk-on, and then has earned a scholarship over time,” Odom said. “He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He is going to be, if I can talk him into it, he is going to be an unbelievable coach when football is over for him. He’s got a great understanding of the game. He’s a terrific leader. He’s got the passion and the competitive spirit of the way you’re supposed to play the game. I trust him. You look at him and (Jalen) Catalon, the way that they talk on the field and communicate. They have reached an elite level on what that’s supposed to look like. And the great thing about Blair is he brings it every single day. You know exactly what you’re going to get. I know at 2:15 when I see him, I know exactly what I’m going to get. He’s the same dude every day, and he brings such terrific value to our program.”
Is that something Blair would be interested in once his playing time is finished?
“Definitely, definitely,” Blair said. “I love the game of football. I love the Xs and Os of the game. I’m able to help my teammates with stuff like that because I’m able to go out on the field and see things more from that kind of perspective.”
Blair walked on to Arkansas from Pine Bluff High School in the Class of 2018. He has played in 33 games during his time in Fayetteville with nine starts. In 2021, Blair played in all 13 games with seven starts. He finished with 38 tackles, 23 solo, a tackle for loss, one sack and four pass breakups. Blair has earned a scholarship while at Arkansas and seen the team go from 2-10 to 9-4 in 2021.
“It’s always tough walking on,” Blair said. “It’s real tough. But it instills in you to be a hard worker, which I learned from my mom and my dad when I was younger. I felt like I could come up here and earn a scholarship, which I did.
“The journey’s really been great. I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever met up here through this journey. So I feel like it’s been a real good journey.”
Odom had the defensive backs put boxing gloves on during Thursday’s practice. Odom said he does it to teach the defensive backs when they tired not to grab and get holding penalties.
“I mean, it was a lot of fun today, you know,” Blair said. “But it helps you work on really just moving your feet at DB. And that’s something you’ve got to think of. You can’t play so handsy. You have to more, like, move your feet first and then bring your hands. So I feel like it makes it harder on us most definitely. But it was fun to do it today.”
Last season the defensive backs did a drill with blinders on. This year it’s boxing gloves. What about the quirky drills?
“It definitely makes you focus on what you’re supposed to do,” Blair said. “And the whole point of the blinders was to make sure you’re looking at your man, especially when you’re in man coverage, to make sure you’re not looking at nothing else but your man. If you’re on film and you move your head, you’re definitely able to tell that you’re not looking at your man because you can’t see out your peripheral vision. So I feel like the quirks just keep it new and keep it fresh, just adds a new spice to practice.”
When Blair came to the interview room he had a walking boot on.
“It’s all good,” Blair said. “It’s just helped with comfort while I’m walking around and everything. Just got those flat feet from my dad of course. This fall camp has been hard on my feet a little bit, so it just eases me walking around.”
Jalen Catalon opted to bypass the 2022 NFL Draft and return to Arkansas for this season. Blair is elated the talented Catalon chose to return.
“It’s huge,” Blair said. “He helps us-he makes us go, really. And he always comes to work every single day. He keeps the same mindset, so even if you’re tired, you know you can lean on him and he’s gonna bring some energy. That just pumps us up to make us keep going.”
For Blair having Catalon is more than just a teammate returning.
“That’s my dawg,” Blair said. “He helped me a lot. He’s a very smart player. I remember my first year during that COVID year when I really first started playing defense for real, we would come in meetings and the coach just put up a formation on the board and he would already know what the play was going to be. And then I would see that and I would be like, okay I definitely need to step up my game. So that just made me want to really be like him. That made me want to learn the game more. And we’re real cool off the field. He’s a real chill guy, real relaxing. So we really just mesh really good.”
A new safety to the team is Georgia transfer Latavious Brini. Blair has seen Brini, who started 11 games for the national champions in 2021, make tremendous progress this fall.
” I feel like he’s definitely getting more in-depth in the defense,” Blair said. “He’s becoming more in our culture. Just working hard, putting your head down, not really thinking too much of nothing besides football and how you can get better. And really, how you can make your teammates better. So I feel like he’s coming along.”
The defensive backs and wide receivers battle each day in practice. Blair talked about the wide receivers who jump out to him the most.
“I would definitely say Matt Landers and Jadon Haselwood,” Blair said. “They’re some great additions to the team. Ketron Jackson and Warren (Thompson) as well. Warren has came a long way in my eyes. I feel like he’s taken the game to a whole new level mentally, really, and he’s becoming a great receiver.”
Arkansas will hold its second scrimmage on Saturday.