HOGS: Coordinators discuss spring needs
FAYETTEVILLE — Early departures of All-SEC wide receiver Treylon Burks and All-SEC cornerback Montaric Brown made headlines, but Coach Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks have holes to fill on the defensive and offensive lines.
Defensive coordinator Barry Odom and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles talked about it after Saturday’s practice, the ninth of 15 spring workouts allotted by the NCAA.
Odom brought up the importance of replacing noseguard John Ridgeway and Briles pointed out the importance of finding a replacement at left offensive tackle for Myron Cunningham.
Ridgeway (6-3, 320) contributed mightily last season as a graduate transfer from Illinois State, finishing with 39 tackles, including four tackles for loss and two sacks, while clogging up the middle for the Razorbacks.
Three-year letterman Isaiah Nichols (Springdale), fourth-year junior Taurean Carter and redshirt freshman Cameron Ball are the candidates to fill Ridgeway’s role.
“We’ve got to continue to work at that,” Odom said. “Because if you’re not good inside up front, then I don’t care how good you are on the back end or linebacker or whatever. That’s why Ridgeway was so important last year.
“He took up two guys and filled up space. Those guys inside, Taurean and Cam and Isaiah, it’s so important that we get some things solidified there so that we feel comfortable on how we’re playing everywhere else. They’ve done a nice job and they’ve got to keep coming, keep pressing.”
Briles was asked about the departure of the unsung Cunningham.
“He wasn’t underrated for us,” Briles said. “You look past him until they make a mistake and then you look right at them. He limited a lot of the mistakes that we had protecting KJ’s backside last year and did a really nice job in the run game. “
Fifth-year senior Luke Jones, previously a reserve guard and center, has run as the first-team left tackle this spring.
Starting guard Brady Latham (6-5, 303) has worked at left tackle, too.
“Luke Jones has been playing that position,” Briles said of Jones (6-5, 327), the former Notre Dame transfer from Pulaski Academy. “He’s done a nice job. Luke knows it and we’ve told him, physicality has got to be the biggest thing for him and he’s done a nice job this spring. There’s some good competition. I really like where our O-line is right now. Hopefully Luke can continue to progress and stay healthy.”
MORE LINE TALK
Nichols (6-3, 302) has had the most productive spring of any of the interior defensive lineman.
“He is playing with great on-snap footwork, great eye discipline, great hand placement,” Odom said. “And he’s playing at a high level.”
Odom said new defensive line coach Deke Adams “has done a great job with that group” and also cited the play of defensive ends Zach Williams (6-4, 245; Joe T. Robinson) and Jashaud Stewart (6-2, 243; Jonesboro) and versatile end-tackle Eric Gregory (6-4, 302).
HAVING A BALL
Ball, a 6-5, 313-pound redshirt freshman from Atlanta, has also progressed, especially after getting a full year in strength Coach Jamil Walker’s program in the weight room.
“He has transformed them into bigger, faster, quicker, meaner, tougher,” Odom said of Walker. “And Cam has been a guy that has stood in there and he kept his head down and he’s learned and he’s been able to go play fast. Isaiah, the same thing. He’s running with the ones, the twos, the threes, we’re rotating so many guys in there.”
WHY ODOM AND BRILES STAYED
Odom and Briles talked about turning down other opportunities to stay with Pittman for a third season.
Odom, formerly the head coach at the University of Missouri, said he enjoys the working environment created by Pittman.
“I had opportunities ... this offseason to be a head coach again,” Odom said. “I'm not gonna go take a head-coaching position again just to say I did it. I don't need that. My ego doesn't need it. I don't need it.
“I'm having as much fun as I've ever had coaching being here. I think we can have great success here.”
Briles cited loyalty and the opportunity to keep working with second-year starter KJ Jefferson at quarterback.
“Obviously, you’ve got to look at everything from a career standpoint and what you think is best,” Briles said. “I feel like I made the right move staying here. ... Having KJ back, it would have been really, really hard to look at KJ and tell him I wasn’t going to be here, just because I love the kid and respect him so much and want him to be able to achieve his goals.
“Being here for the players and the state and raising a family here, there’s not a better place to do that. So I absolutely love it here and hope I can stay for a long time.”
The Razorbacks didn’t scrimmage Saturday and are saving their last two scrimmage dates for the next two Saturdays closing spring drills.