By Drake Priddy
FAYETTEVILLE — Freshmen linebackers Carson Dean, Brad Spence, and Alex Sanford, all class of 2023 signees, showed up to fall camp ready to work and already turning heads.
Dean and Spence, both enrolled early to participate in spring practice, whereas Sanford got to campus later in the summer, but already making a significant impact.
Sanford, 6’1, 230, a three-star recruit out of Oxford (Mississippi) was rated as the No. 13 linebacker in Mississippi, and No. 25 inside linebacker nationally by Rivals. Committed to Arkansas over Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Auburn. Spence, 6’2, 240, a three-star prospect out of Houston, Texas committed to Arkansas over Texas, Colorado, and Cal. Spence was rated as the No. 38 outside linebacker nationally by Rivals. Dean, 6’4, 232, a four-star prospect out of Frisco (Texas) committed to Arkansas over Baylor, LSU, and Ole Miss. He was rated the No. 21 outside linebacker in the country and the No. 65 player in the state of Texas by Rivals.
Defensive Coordinator Coach Travis Williams already has faith that these freshmen will be SEC-caliber linebackers in no time.
“I think all three guys have bright futures here,” said Williams. “All of them have a great pace of being able to help us at some point this year on special teams and maybe on the defense. All of those guys have a skillset, and you can see they are SEC players.
“Brad Spence is one we’re putting at so many different positions because he can do so much, but all those guys have high ceilings and we’re very, very happy with their progress right now.”
With Spence able to play many positions, Williams believes it is Spence’s physicality and aggression that has made him shine so far in fall camp.
“Yeah, he come in, he has a physical presence,” Williams said. “He comes in and you can see him, he looks like he’s a sophomore or junior in college. He has heavy hands and does a really good job striking. Has a really good change of direction. And he has really good speed, he’s learning the system. So, the sky is the limit for him. He has a bright future.”
Upperclassmen, sophomore Jordan Crook and redshirt sophomore Chris “Pooh” Paul gave the up-and-coming young guys their kudos. Mostly, thanking them for showing up to camp ready to ball out and providing depth to their linebacker corps.
“Oh yeah, those guys have been doing a great job, just picking up the schemes and things of that nature.,” Paul said. “But the thing I like about them is nothing’s really setting them back. As a freshman, you come in and people are timid, things of that nature. They don’t really know how … they’re trying to translate from high school to college.
“But the thing I like, especially like with Brad Spence and Carson Dean and guys like that, is those guys, it didn’t take no time for it to translate over. Like Brad Spence, he’s a big dude, kind of a big dude but the thing I like about him is his physicality and the way that he gets to the ball. Like he has that means to get to the ball and things like that, and that nature. But those guys, they’re going to provide depth for us but it’s also helpful for the team because they know just as much as we do.”
Crook, an up-and-coming leader, was quick to point out the hard work and focus the young linebackers have put in leading up to and during fall camp.
“As far as the younger guys go, those guys have just been sponges. I enjoy it. They look up to me in a way, even though I’m a young guy,” Crook said. “So, it’s kind of weird. “All I can do is tell them what I went through last year. Just basically the ins and outs of it and how to approach it every day. As far as the young guys go, they’ve been very attentive. It’s been good being a leader to them.”
With guys like Crook and Paul, as well as Jaheim Thomas and Antonio Grier Jr., most likely to be the starting linebackers, this trio still has a chance to make big impacts on special teams and situational game scenarios. More importantly, they add depth to the linebacking corps as well as gaining the experience to be future starters for the Razorbacks. It would not be surprising to see these young guys make plenty of game appearances and big plays.
Arkansas will have a closed scrimmage on Saturday, off on Sunday, and back to classes on Monday.