State of the Hogs: Early Juice

Linebackers coach Reggie Johnson knows how his days are going to start -- a glass full of Juice. Johnson's new weakside linebacker is early to work.

Reggie Johnson is getting a lot of Juice early in the morning. That bodes well for the Arkansas defense.

No, Johnson isn't taking better care of his body. There's not an infusion of vitamin C to start the day. Neither Johnson, the UA linebackers coach, nor defensive coordinator Willy Robinson are doing anything to cut back on their long hours or probably a lack of great nutrition.

Remember, it was Johnson who had to fill in for Robinson one game last season because he spent a couple of days in the hospital.

No, what this is about has to do with Anthony Leon, nicknamed Juice. He's been showing up at Johnson's office before classes the last two weeks to learn as much about outside linebacker as possible.

"I think Anthony's first class is at 9 a.m. on most days," Johnson said. "So he's at my office first thing."

This conversation happened after practice Tuesday. Johnson said it was a typical post-practice visist with Juice.

"We finished our post-practice linebacker meeting and I was headed down here to talk to you guys and Anthony comes to me and says, 'How about 7:15 in the morning? I'll be there first thing and we can go over some things,'" Johnson said. "It's like that about every day. He's excited to be on the field.

"He's putting in the time studying and working to learn this position. It showed in the way he played Saturday night."

Leon recorded eight tackles, four for losses. He also had two sacks. He was everything the Hogs hoped for and more in the 44-3 victory over Tennessee Tech. His four tackles for lost yardage leads the SEC after the first week.

Head coach Bobby Petrino said he wasn't surprised. He had charted Leon's plays when he was shoved into the box in nickel packages last season. He saw the way he played in those linebacker-like calls and surmised that he would be a good fit at weakside linebacker. The move was made midway through August camp.

Not so fast, Johnson said.

"You can say that's a similar situations, but not really," Johnson said. "Going into the box fulltime at will linebacker is totally different than playing just outside the box in a nickel. The keys are very different. The calls are very different. The way the blockers come at you is very different. You are talking about going into an vastly different element.

"That's why what he did in that first game was very good. He's learned an entirely different position. Is he still making some mistakes? Yes. Does he have it down perfect? No. He's still learning, but he's doing well.

"That's why he knows getting that hour and a half before class is going to help him. I told him I'm there for anything he needs. That's on his own. But he wants to be good. He knows he's a senior and is running out of time. He wants to be on the field and help this team and is willing to do whatever it takes to get out there.

"He's excited about it. His teammates are excited, too. You see them helping him. He did well at getting lined up and didn't have to get much from (middle linebacker) Jerry Franklin. It was more like a nod here or there to make sure he knew he was right, confirmation. Jerry had to help him a few times, but not much.

"That's because Anthony has put in the time this fall. It makes you feel good as a coach, too, when you hear a player tell you, 'I'll be there early in the morning.' You may have to go in a little earlier yourself to make sure you get some things done and have more time for him. It's been very good. Very pleasing."

How did the linebackers play in the opener?

"They didn't grade perfectly," Johnson said. "But they did have really good grades. The effort was very good. They played full speed. They just need to keep working. Every week it's a different challenge."

The challenge in week one was to play disciplined against Tech's multiple option attack and hold their spots to cover the middle, the alleys and the boundary. That was accomplished. But Johnson thinks Leon can play the pass, too. He touched a lot of passes in camp, some that were tipped for others to intercept. He's got depth to his linebacker game.

"It will be different each week, but what we tell them is to focus on what we do," Johnson said. "That's what Coach Petrino says every week. If we focus on what we do and fit it into the game plan with fundamentals and technique, we'll be fine. That's our message. We'll get the preparation time this week on our opponent and our work in camp on our fundamentals will fall into place. As far as we come, each week is the same. We are going to do what we do."

That means Juice will be waiting on Reggie Johnson every morning and the Hogs will be waiting on Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday night.

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