New Arkansas  co-defensive coordinator Marcus Woodson has first-hand experience with helping to revive a college football defense and is looking to do so again in Fayetteville this fall.

Woodson was the defensive passing game coordinator and defensive backs coach the last three seasons for a Florida State program that was 13th in pass defense (283.5 yards per game) in the ACC when he arrived in Tallahassee to finishing first (158.9 yards per game) in his final season there.

He hopes to join fellow new co-coordinator Travis Williams in doing something similar for a Razorback defense that was 13th in the 14-team SEC last season in total yards and 101 of 131 nationally in points allowed, giving up 30.6 a contest.

The squad finished its 11th fall practice on Wednesday and continues to prepare for a Sept. 2 season opener with Western Carolina at 3 p.m. I inside Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.

“Coming here to Arkansas, I felt watching film and just getting some history of what went on last year, the first thing was just coming together as a group,” Woodson said. “It was the same way at Florida State. I tell the guys all the time, if you want to go far, go together. If you want to get there fast, go by yourself. 

“But it’s a long journey and we want to go far, so we’re going to go together. It’s a brotherhood and it’s amazing how much you can accomplish just by bringing guys together and having some oneness, if you will. 

“I’m excited with the chemistry in the room and where we’re going. They know it’s going to be a collective deal for us to be successful. It’s a we and us mindset and not an I and me.”

Woodson’s mindset is focusing on the future and not the past of a Razorback defense that gave up a total of 465.2 yards total offense per game last season with 294.7 yards passing and 170.5 rushing.

That was better than just Vanderbilt in the 14-team SEC.

“I never look back to last year,” Woodson said. “You obviously want to have an idea of what you’re inheriting, if you will. But at the end of the day, it’s about today and moving forward, not yesterday. What I do is go back and look at what are the things we did good, or fairly good, and what’s the biggest areas of improvement. Whatever those areas of improvement are, that’s what we’re going to emphasize.”

Woodson and Travis Williams, who was the defensive coordinator at the University of Central Florida,  worked on the same staff at Auburn earlier.

The pair went right to work adding impact portal transfers once they arrived at Arkansas, who has 40 newcomers this season among high school players and transfer acquisitions. 

“First off, obviously finding out the needs that we had on defense,” Woodson said. “ Once we identified what those needs were, we had to go out and identify the right players first because you watch the film before you do any research from a character standpoint. 

“So once we watched the film and saw the guys that we felt like had the physical attributes to help us, we then reached out and did our research on them to make sure that they’re the right fit. There were some other high-level players that can come in that wasn’t the right fit. We made sure that we stuck true to who we are — the guys that can come in and be the right fit for the players that we already had and that really could come in and obviously impact us on defense.

“I feel like we did a phenomenal job not only on the back end but with the defensive line and linebackers as well. Every kid that came in out of the portal has been a great addition and has fit right in to the defensive locker room.”

Woodson stressed that Arkansas was looking for the best fitting defenders.

“The character part of it is really important,” Woodson said. “There’s some really high-level players out there that can come in an ‘I and me’ kind of mindset. But it has to be a ‘Me and us’ kind of mentality. We wanted to make sure we found guys that were selfless, that were about the team, but also that can play SEC football. I think we hit the jackpot with the guys that we got.”

Arkansas is now through 11 camp practices.

“Well, we started camp off by saying two things.” Woodson said. “We wanted to continue to stack good days. The very first day of camp wasn’t a good day for us on the backend, but ever since then, we’ve stacked good days and we’ve been consistent with doing that. 

“Then we said every rep we put on film has to be a competitive rep. If you put a non-competitive rep on tape, then you won’t be on the field. Just putting the emphasis on competing every play and making every rep at practice a competitive rep and that’s what the guys have responded to.”

Woodson stressed the key in continuing to improve.

“Communication,” Woodson said. “You know that’s the main thing for us. We want to play clean Razorback football. And, you know, 10 guys can be playing the same call and one guy get the wrong call and it’s a breakdown in the defense on the back end.

“And as you know, we can’t have any breakdowns because when something bad happens on the back end we the last level of defense and everyone in the stadium knows it. So at the end of the day if we continue to communicate  — we can fix the physical piece of it. 

“But the mental piece and the communication is something that they have to take ownership in. And being on the same page. And I’m confident that as long we continue to improve our communication, execute the defense and do your job within the defense, we can play with anybody in the country. 

“So I’m just excited to see the steps that we must take going forward. Again it’s a lot of work that still has to be done until September 2nd. The communication is the first piece. 

“And just continuing to be disciplined, to do your job with the right technique and making sure your eyes are on the right spot. You know, so communication and eye discipline — those are the biggest two things for me that I want to see as a coach improve in the group.”

Photo By John D. James