FAYETTEVILLE — Count junior defensive end Zach Williams among those impressed with new defensive line coach Jermial Ashley.
Williams played in nine games last season as a true sophomore. He finished with 22 tackles, incluing nine solo, 1.5 for loss, a sack and one quarterback hurry. Following Tuesday’s practic Williams did a Zoom conference with reporters. He talked about his strides at defensive end this spring.
“I think I made my biggest gains at pass rushing,” Williams said. “I’m starting to use my hands a lot more. I remember last year most of the time I was just bull rush. Now I’m actually starting to use my hands. I feel like I need to get a little bit better at that, but I’ve gotten a lot better since last year.”
Williams who was at 240 pounds said now he’s up to 264 and still maintains the same quickness. He feels Ashley has helped him tremendously with his technique.
“Coach Ashley is a lot different than our last coach,” Williams said. “He’s a lot more firey, lot more young. You can relate to him. He just teaches you different setups and moves that you can do. He just shows you how to actually base your hands when you’re striking full speed and things like that. A lot of the stuff I’ve learned is from Coach Ashley.”
Williams said it’s not just him that has improved with technique on the defensive line.
“I feel like we’ve all gotten better with our hands,” Williams said. “Last year when we do sort of hand drills with O-linemen and try to figure out where to place them, but this time we’re emphasizing it. Every time we strike hand this, hand that, hand place, focus about hand.”
Williams said that Ashley is making them all compete for playing time and earn the first-team reps.
“That’s what we’re doing different this year,” Williams said. “Coach Ashley likes to rotate us like every two pratices. He has been seeing everybody and how they do with the first team. And you know it’s a healthy competition because your spot is never secured. So I think with him doing that everybody is pushing themselves more because everybody wants to start, everybody wants to play. So we’ve been doing better and I think that’s a good benefit.”
One emphasis of Sam Pittman prior to spring was improve the pass rush. Even in a three-man front, Williams said he expects the improvement will be tremendous.
“It has really picked up,” Williams said. “Last year we just mainly in the three-downs(linemen). We’re starting to learn you can actually rush the quarterback in three-downs we’re just trying different pass rushing techniques. We’ve been trying the same things with the three downs we did the four and that didn’t really work. But Coach Ashley really showed us the difference in the things we can do in the three downs. I feel like we’re going to be a whole lot better rushing in the three downs this year.”
Williams was a highly recruited defensive end from Joe T. Robinson who is putting together an outstanding career at Arkansas. Williams’ father, Rickey, was an outstanding linebacker for the Hogs from 1984-87.