State of the Hogs: New Tricks?

Whether it's a new look on a bike or an extra defensive tackle, Willy Robinson is full of ideas.

Don't ask Willy Robinson about new tricks. He's seen them all. The Arkansas defensive coordinator and secondary coach has seen them all and used most of them.

And if your think you've seen something different, then you probably haven't been watching closely.

I started with him Saturday morning at media day thinking I had several new things to discuss.

Like the bike he rides from the intramural fields to the Broyles Center after practices. New bike, right coach?

"Nope, I've had that for a long time," Robinson said. "I don't go anywhere without my bike. I took it to training camp in the NFL. I'd ride it from our camp facility back to the hotel after practices. I always got it to camp.

"So I got it out when we saw what we were going to do this camp ... to get from the intramural fields back to the office."

There was one slight blip. That hill on the way back was pretty steep.

"Going up the road behind the stadium, that's a climb," he said. "The first day, it almost got me. I knew you guys (in the media) might be driving by and I didn't want you guys to see me get off and walk. I didn't realize it was so steep. I was huffing and puffing.

"But I made it. I didn't have to get off. The next day, I got a little smarter. I did a serpentine path. You can climb a hill pretty easily doing that. No problem the second day."

Okay, on to the next item. How about that 5-2 front the Hogs have been looking at on defense in the early part of camp? That's certainly new, right?

"No, we have that in every year," Robinson said. "I think it's something we always carry. We did use it some last year with Damario Ambrose to get three ends out there."

But it's different in this camp. Instead of three ends, Robinson is inserting an extra defensive tackle. That's a nice package to include three fine tackles -- Robert Thomas, Dede Jones and Byran Jones. They keep the same guys on the edge with Tenarius Wright on one side, along with Jake Bequette as a stand-up end.

The linebackers are Jerry Franklin and Alonzo Highsmith. The look is the same in the secondary. The odd man out is Jerico Nelson, the hybrid outside linebacker who has been a standout playmaker in the base and nickel packages.

But that could change, both Robinson and Nelson pointed out.

"Jerico came to me and wanted to know if he might help at safety," Robinson said. "We have looked at that some the last two days and he's done well there. So maybe he gets on the field in the 5-2."

Nelson said, "I came in as a safety and I still like it. I think maybe I can play there at the next level, so I asked about it. I think I do have closing speed and cover aspects. I think I can handle it and I think Coach Robinson has seen that the last two days. I don't think I put limits on what we do in that look.

"I think I can still line up on the hash and play a safety position for us. I'd like to show I can."

Robinson downplayed the plans for the 5-2. He said the camp work was more for the purpose of teaching a few techniques than with an eye for an opponent.

"We wanted to get our inside guys a few more reps and this does that since all three of those guys can be out there at the same time," Robinson said. "It's a way to show them some techniques and get our fits better.

"And I think it helps show Jake some things that improve him in the run game. When he's in a three-point stance, he tends to rush the passer well, but not play the run as well. In a two-point, he's got his eyes up and he sees the run a little better. I think it helped Mario in that regard last year when we played it.

"So this kills two birds with one stone. This is just a time to test the water so to speak. Jake is awfully good in this look, too. He can drop very well, but it helps him with his eyes."

Linebacker coach Reggie Johnson is a fan, too. He was kidding his outside linebacker about getting more time at safety. He was walking past as Nelson described the 5-2 and interjected, "Don't you believe anything he says."

Oh, it's all believable. And the players love it.

"I think it's just another case of how our staff looks at our personnel and finds the best way to utilize us," Bequette said. "Our coaches know how to get the right players on the field at the right times."

Perhaps it's the kind of stuff you can dream up when you are riding your bike to practice.

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