HOGS ready to show out Saturday

HOGS ready to show out Saturday

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FAYETTEVILLE - Hands down, Arkansas two-year letterman Zach Williams says he’ll be a better defensive end than before.

“I think I’ve made my biggest gains pass rushing because I’m starting to use my hands more,” Williams said Tuesday evening after the Razorbacks 13th of 15 spring practices. “I remember last year most of the time I’d just bull-rush. But now I’m actually starting to use my hands. I feel I can get a little bit better at that, but I’ve gotten a lot better since last year.” 

The junior via Joe T. Robinson High credits new defensive line coach Jermial Ashley.

“Yes sir, mainly Coach Ashley,” Williams said. “He’s a lot different than our last coach. He’s fiery. He’s a lot more young. You can relate to him. He teaches you different setups and moves. He shows you how to place your hands when you’re striking full speed. A lot of the stuff I’ve learned is from Coach Ashley.”

In fairness, Ashley had a spring to work with Williams, which last year’s brand new staff under Sam Pittman didn’t have as the reaction to covid-19 cancelled all 2020 spring athletics.

So Williams, the son of former Ken Hatfield era Razorbacks starting linebacker Rickey Williams, has gone through his first spring football practices in his three seasons in Fayetteville.

“Last year, it (no spring drills) did hold us back with technique because we’ve been months and months without proper technique and doing it, learning it,”  Williams said. “We were all set back with our technique, like how to read stuff, using our hands and I feel like since we didn’t have that, we probably weren’t as good last year. This year, with the (spring) practices, we’ve been emphasizing technique and everything else. I feel like we’ve made strides.”

It helps, too, that Williams can finally throw his weight around. Williams, 6-4, reported as a 200-pound freshman in 2019 and played last year at 240 pounds.

“Right now I’m 264 and trying to gain two more pounds by the season,” Williams said. “I think I can do that.

“I don’t feel a difference. I still feel like I’m 200 pounds, like before I first got here.”

Adding size and keeping speed improve confidence.

“Oh, I’m a lot more confident,” Williams said. “I was always the underweight one, but I’m finally starting to pick up my weight and get stronger, and I can actually throw people around if I need to. And also with my technique, coming from high school I didn’t really have that much technique because I just used my God-given ability. But now, all the different coaches I’ve had, I've picked up something from them. And I feel like I’m just stacking it together and coming up with my own technique, and I just feel more comfortable with that. I feel like I’m getting better.”

Adding the weight isn’t enough without adding technique to going against offensive tackle Myron Cunningham in practice.

Reporting for an extra senior year since NCAA deference to the 2020 pandemic restored all 2020 eligibility into 2021, the 6-6 Cunningham has bulked to 325 after lettering two seasons in the 280s and 290s.

“Myron is great with his hands,” Williams said. “You’ve got to make sure you get correct hand placement with him because if not he’ll just grab on to you and he’s a big boy. There’s no way of getting off of that. I think the best thing with him is his hands.” 

Getting better, anyway, Cunningham, asserted Tuesday.

“I would say from a technical aspect that I’m trying to work on hand placement, my eyes, my reads of the defense pre-snap, and just footwork at this weight,” Cunningham said. “I’ve got to get back to moving quickly like I used to, but that’s about it.”

As he gets used to the extra weight, Cunningham said he appreciates it, especially since running the ball on third and short is a major objective.

“I feel like it’s only going to help being at that weight this season,” Cunningham said. “We’ve become a more physical offensive line. I think we’ve definitely made major strides in that aspect of the game.”|

Cunningham and Williams were asked what they hope to gain from Saturday’s 2 p.m. free-to-the-public Red-White intrasquad game, which will conclude the 15 spring practices. 

“Really, individually I want to make a statement how much better I’ve gotten from last year,” Williams said. “I want to show people I’ve actually gained weight and am starting to get better with my technique.”

And as a team?

“Collectively, I just want to show people we’ve been working over these past three weeks,” Williams said. “And that the thing from last year (winning three SEC games after winning one in 2017 and none in 2018 and 2019) was great, but it won't compare with what they are going to see this season.”

Cunningham expressed similar observations.

“Individually, I just look to show what I’ve been working on this whole spring, just technical improvements,” Cunningham said. “And as a team, we want to put on a good performance, show what we’ve been working on, just polish everything up — the run game, the- passing game — and show we’re ready to compete this fall.”

The Razorbacks have a Thursday practice remaining before Saturday’s spring game wrapup at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

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