The Arkansas Razorbacks defensive woes the past three seasons have been well documented the past three seasons. Especially the backend and their deficiency in the passing game. Whether that falls on the front seven and their lack of a pass rush, how the defensive backs were aligned to defend the receivers or their broken plays where the receiver just beat them, the defense as a whole was just terrible. Nonexistent could be a better term to describe them. Most likely, it was the scheme. In Bret Bielema’s five seasons, he hired three different defensive coordinators and each had a different philosophy on what they wanted to do. The most recurring theme in the secondary was how far the defensive backs were off their receivers at the line of scrimmage. Look at the 4:19, 4:41, 4:52 and 6:26 portions of the video.
Without a pass rush, the quarterback had all day to toss the ball around. The New Mexico State quarterback threw for over 400 yards in a closer than expected loss to the Hogs in 2017.
Even watching the Auburn tape from 2017, there were men out of position, even to the extent of the coaching staff having McTelvin Agim lay on the ground with an embarrassing fake injury to slow Auburn’s offense down. This Arkansas defense had gaps all over the field. Whether it be the scheme, talent deficiency or lack of desire to compete, last season was a lost clause.
With new defensive coordinator, John Chavis, you may not see Arkansas play a “bend don’t break” defense for a long time to come. You will not see undisciplined football, men out of position or men not competing to the whistle. All these things will come as a relief to the tired, dying for a winner, Razorback fan base. This fan base wants to win and they have the right coaching staff to do it. Let’s look at the defensive backfield:
Known as the “Old Man” of the defense, Pulley has been around the program for what seems like ages. Early on in his career he could not stop any receiver. Often getting turned around and getting burned by a simple spin, stutter step or juke. As a sophomore, Pulley had an amazing turnaround to become one of the best defensive backs in the SEC. Quarterbacks started to check the coverage in fear of throwing to Pulley’s side of the field. Many fans and media alike were ready to see how Pulley would have improved into his junior season. He only played into the third quarter of the first game against Florida A&M. According to interviews, Pulley sounds ready to play and get to a bowl game. Pulley is quoted as promising a trip to a bowl game at Arkansas’ media day last Sunday.
The highest rated recruit in Bielema’s last class, Calloway was expected to have an impact during his Razorback career. No one expected he would be thrown to the fire so early in his career until Pulley was injured in the Florida A&M game. Calloway showed himself to be a sure tackler as eight of his ten tackles were solo tackles. He now moves to the second cornerback spot after playing behind Kamren Curl who has moved to safety. Arkansas fans should expect Calloway to make more of an impact in 2018 and live up to his recruiting hype.
Tutt was a 2016 summer midterm enrolle who looks to finally contribute this season at corner. He got to campus and practiced quite well early on as he was being considered for a starting position. All was going well until he tore his ACL. After one season of recovery and another season getting acclimated to the game again, Tutt should be ready to go this season. 2018 will be a go big or home season for him to earn his keep. If he does not do it now, he could be passed up especially with the highly recruited cornerbacks the 2019 class already have committed.
Curtis is another cornerback who was in the loaded secondary class of 2017. After redshirting in 2017, he has asserted himself into the two deep this season. Curtis is another player to keep an eye on for the upcoming season.
After a late recruiting push by the Florida Gators (again), McClellion still committed and signed with the Razorbacks. McClellion redshirted in 2017. If he lives up to his recruiting hype, he should crack the two deep this season.
The most experienced player in the secondary is Ramirez. Like Pulley, it seems Ramirez has been in the Arkansas program for decades. Fans should be excited about what the senior safety brings to the table in 2018. With 141 career tackles, 3 interceptions and five forced fumbles fans should be excited for his return. At Arkansas Media Days, Ramirez was asked to make a promise for this coming season and with a couple second pause, he promised to win more games than they won in 2017. With Ramirez coming back as a captain and the number of players returning who have experience, Arkansas could possibly deliver on his promise.
The biggest surprise of 2017 was Curl. Although Curl moves back to safety, the position he was recruited to play, the move fits his abilities more than what corner did. As a freshman, he started 11 games. Because of his move to safety, there should not be such a considerable drop-off in production. There is enough quality depth in the secondary to move pieces around. Curl is a key piece to the secondary. As the lead cornerback last season, Curl held his own against many of the number one receivers in the SEC. “So far, Kam has really learned that position very fast.” Ramirez said. “For Kam, the main thing right now is to make sure his eyes are in the right place. When Kam can get his eyes in the right place, Kam can be a shutdown safety.” Arkansas fans can expect more wins in 2018 with this move. With Pulley and Calloway at corner and Ramirez and Curl at the safety spots, the Hogs will get their best four backs on the field. It will pay dividends when all is finished.
The top ranked player in Arkansas during the 2017 recruiting class, fans never got the chance to see Brown play. Because of his late arrival to Fayetteville, Brown ultimately took a redshirt season in 2017. Fans thought as bad as 2017 was, why not play Brown for the experience for the future. Bielema and his staff decided not burn his redshirt which was wise. At 6’0, 180 pounds, Brown was considered to small and not fully developed right out of high school. Brown has seen plenty of reps during the spring at second team safety behind Ramirez. That will benefit him immensely because of everything Ramirez has seen throughout his career at Arkansas. Fans, let Brown develop. He could possibly be given playing time early on in the season. Brown is the future of the defensive backfield. He will be a star sooner or later.
Besides special team work, Dalton has not seen much time on the field. Dalton has seen a little more work since the hire of Morris. He has pushed for time at the backup position at safety while also working some as a nickel back. Whatever he plays, expect Dalton to give it his best due to his time running low on the Hill. Can he make an impact besides work on special teams? We will know soon.
There is a lot to look forward to with the future of this secondary. With the last two recruiting classes, there has been plenty of solid talent signed. With Brown, Calloway, Curl, Mason, Bishop, Foucha and Mason Arkansas has stockpiled talent for many more years to come. The 2019 defensive back class looks promising, too.
Newcomers and walk-ons:
Ryder Lucas, Cameron Vail, Brenden Young, Ladarrius Bishop, Matt Berry, Simeon Blair. Colton Chapin, Joseph Foucha, Myles Mason