Lining Up Closer

One thing about most of the members of Arkansas' linebacking crew is that they all know what it was like to be a safety at one time in their careers.

One thing that opening night showed last Saturday is that the University of Arkansas has a lot of hard-hitting safeties – ones that are playing linebacker.

Razorback junior Jerry Franklin, senior Anthony Leon and junior Jerico Nelson – the three starters in the 44-3 thrashing o Tennessee Tech – all came to Fayetteville expecting to play safety.

As did sophomore Ross Rasner, whose seven tackles were second only to Leon's team-leading eight - and junior Bret Harris and senior Freddy Burton as well.

"It's just a matter of getting everybody in the right spots and doing what is best for the defense," Franklin said. "It just so happens that is putting me in the middle, bringing Juice (Leon) and Rasner up and getting a lot of speed on the field."

Franklin played middle linebacker (Mike) as a freshman and played well enough at the Will (Weak) to earn some preseason all-SEC accolades going into this season.

But when no one really grabbed hold of the middle linebacker spot – and Leon took to outside linebacker so well – Franklin found himself back in the middle.

"Camp was kind of crazy," Franklin said. "I was playing the Will, next day I was playing the Mike and so it was kind of back and forth."

All the while Franklin thought he would end up at the Will with Jermaine Love starting at middle linebacker.

"I thought that was the plan, too, but we moved Juice and got a good look at him and he caught on to it pretty fast," Franklin said. "So I can move to the Mike."

There is a big difference, according to Franklin.

"The biggest thing is just coverage," Franklin said. "At Will, you do a lot more covering than the Mike, which is kind of just sideline-to-sideline and an inside-out guy."

It was a bumpy spring, summer and pre-season for Franklin, who was held out of some practices and put on the second unit at times.

"I was just trusting what the coaches were doing," Franklin said. "I just tried to do my job and let everything else take care of itself."

Rasner got a shot at both safety and linebacker in the spring and has now settled in at the hybrid linebacker spot behind Nelson.

Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson thinks Rasner is going to get some significant action this season.

"He's going to be a guy who is going to really help us in a lot of ways," Robinson said. "He's getting time behind Jerico Nelson and we like him there. He's someone who keeps his legs going and stays off the ground. He is someone who can help us in the pressures. He's getting better. He is technique sound and is doing a heckuva job."

Rasner said it's not that big of a transition for him moving up closer to the line.

"It is a little bit of the same in the coverage aspects," Rasner said. "At linebacker, you get to rush off he edge and I like that."


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