The defensive back seven for the Arkansas football team has been a pretty big burden for the Razorbacks over the past couple of years, but new defensive coordinator Robb Smith is looking to change that.
This year, a change in defensive mentality and philosophy should bring a different look to the Hogs as Smith’s aggressive style is instilled into the players and playbook for the defense.
Even though the linebackers and secondary may not be totally up to par with others in the SEC, it will be the best that the Razorbacks have had in many years.
Let’s take a look at each position in the back seven and see who should step up and make some serious impacts for the new and hopefully improved defense.
Linebacker play for the Razorbacks the past few years has been possibly worst in the league. They have been slow, undersized, and not near as physical as an SEC crew should be.
This year may actually be different however.
Sophomore Brooks Ellis has seemingly taken over the middle linebacker spot after starting the last four games a year ago. In 12 games he totaled 33 tackles and was decent in pass coverage during his first year as a Hog. If he did some good work in the weight room and got a little faster this summer, Ellis could turn out to be a standout player for the defense.
Matrell Spaight will anchor down the SLB spot after getting a good amount of playing time in his first year after transferring from junior college. Spaight brings a lot of physicality and recorded 22 tackles in nine games last year and I think he will improve on that number drastically in Smith’s defense.
Braylon Mitchell should round out the linebacking core. I think he is one of the more underrated players on the entire team. Mitchell had eight starts last year with 77 tackles and made a career-high 12 tackles against Auburn. He is constantly around the ball and plays hard every down.
Another guy that should see a good amount of playing time is Otha Peters. I just cannot figure out what has happened to him after such a promising freshman year in which he was named to the All-Freshman SEC Team. He did suffer a broken arm which hampered his playing time drastically, but I was fully expecting him to come back and take over a starting spot, which he has yet to do.
If anyone is going to surprise some people this year on the defensive side of the ball, it’s Tiquention Coleman who has made the switch from strong safety to outside linebacker/nickelback position. During the Spring Game you could tell that he had put on some size and was excelling at the new position. He will come up with some big hits this year if given the chance.
My pick to be the player of the year for the back seven is Alan Turner. The three year letterman will be playing in his final season as a Razorback after starting all 12 games a year ago and recording 97 tackles and two picks. He finally looks comfortable in his starting role after last season and is not afraid to come up and make a tackle. I think this will be the big, breakout year for Turner as the veteran of the secondary.
After a very impressive freshman campaign of 75 tackles, Rohan Gaines only started five games last year because of a knee injury and recorded 33 tackles. After seeing him in the Spring Game, he looks much more improved so I expect a big year for him in the new defense.
Junior Davyon McKinney and redshirt freshman De’Andre Coley will backup these two and will see a good amount of playing time as well.
Arkansas has been searching desperately for playmakers at the cornerback spot for years and years now, but this season they have depth like never before. As far as the starters go, it is completely up in the air.
Tevin Mitchel has been a starter for the past three seasons, but as any Hog fan knows he hasn’t made the plays that he should and has severe trouble tackling.
D.J. Dean appeared in all 12 games of his true freshman campaign and started the final two games. He looked tremendously better in the spring game and I think he will challenge for one of the starting spots.
Will Hines has seen a lot of playing time at the postion, but like Mitchel, just has not seemed to be able to make plays like he should.
Look for guys like Carroll Washington and Jared Collins to battle for one of the spots after decent first years with the Hogs last year.
When it’s all said and done, I think that new secondary coach Clay Jennings will get Tevin Mitchel to finally get his stuff together and play like he is capable of playing at the position.
What I saw from D.J. Dean at the end of last season and this year in the Spring Game gives me good reason to believe that he will earn the other starting spot for the Razorback defense.
Smith’s new defense has been said to be much less complicated than the one that the guys learned while Chris Ash was here and is simple, yet aggressive. I think that the back seven will be improved drastically this season from a year ago.