Kiero Small is a cult hero among Arkansas football fans. He's the bowling ball of a fullback that smashes face masks and linebackers throughout the Southeastern Conference.
The questions after the end of spring football were two fold -- how many face masks did he break in the 15 workouts and is the Tenarius "Tank" Wright experiment at linebacker going to work?
Small said he didn't have a clue on the broken face mask tally for spring ball. He said he was aware that the total for the fall was 21. There were some broken in the spring but he said, "They didn't give me a number."
Some might not think a fullback should be giving thumbs up or down on an experiment on defense. But Small might know if Wright can make it at linebacker better than anyone.
First, Small can tell you the worth of Wright at defensive end. He saw him on every snap when the pads were on in the fall. Fullbacks and defensive ends crash pads play after play in practice. And if the fullback is not hitting a defensive end, he's hunting down the middle linebacker on isolation plays.
What would Small tell a doubting Thomas on the Wright experiment? What would he tell someone who says Wright is not going to make it at mike linebacker?
"I don't believe any part of that," Small said. "He's going to be fine there. Tank is a tough guy. If Tank puts his mind to it and he has, he's going to do what he wants to do.
"Tank had a good spring. I saw Tank almost every day. There was no let up. No slouch days. I like Tank."
Wright didn't get a lot of snaps in the spring game when some were trying to decide if it was the right move for the defense. He had sustained a bruised thigh in the major scrimmage the week before and his spring game plays were reduced as a precautionary measure. And the second team offense didn't run many plays at him in the time Wright was on the field.
Small likes what the Hogs have at linebacker and end. He sees the development of young players like Trey Flowers as a huge positive for the defense. The sophomore from Alabama looks like a different player after adding 20 pounds, up to 260. He's got massive muscles on his shoulders, the root of that 7-foot wing span.
"He's a dog," Small said. "That's what he calls himself. He plays like a dog.
"He's physical and only has one speed and that's fast. He likes to play fast. Just full speed ahead. He likes to play football. That's what you like about him."
Flowers had to grow up fast last year. He was thrown into the Alabama game when Wright broke an arm. With Jake Bequette out with a hamstring injury, there was no rest that week or the next against Texas A&M.
"He grew up in those two games, a lot," Small said. "I think he grew up all last season. He's ready now. He's ready to be more effective than he was last season. He knows more about the game. He knows what speed he has to play at in the games. He has more football intelligence."
Small said he sees Flowers a lot in pass protection drills. His 7-foot wing span is tough on a fullback who may not stand more than 5-8 tall.
"I have to use my feet and keep them moving," Small said. "He's going to get his hands on you sometimes and you aren't going to be able to reach his body with yours. That's just going to happen. I try to get to him before that happens, move my feet and make contact. But he has the advantage with those long arms against me."
Those are wars in practice, but it's still friendly competition. There are jokes and laughs along the way.
"We have fun and know that we are going to go against each other every day," Small said. "It's an every day thing. If the pads are on, it's fullbacks hitting ends and linebackers. We laugh and joke."
And break face masks -- and that's no joke.
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