State of the Hogs: Thud

There have been plenty of live scrimmages throughout fall camp. There has been plenty of tackling to the ground. But some of the key starters on both sides of the ball haven't participated. Will they be ready for the opener?

There has been much debate on whether or not bell cow running back Knile Davis should be tackled in preparation for the season opener. Do you risk another broken ankle, like the one that happened when linemen fell on him in a pileup last August?

No one is going to settle that argument except John L. Smith. The Arkansas head coach has pretty much dodged the question all through fall camp. He once joked that he tripped Davis, perhaps intimated that was enough going to the ground after contact for the running back.

But that's not really what came to mind about tackling as the Hogs head into game week. Will they have tackled enough to be sharp in that part of the game when Jacksonville State comes to town?

Yes, there have been plenty of scrimmages, but none have featured safety Eric Bennett and linebackers Alonzo Highsmith and Tenarius "Tank" Wright. All three have been injured this fall and have not had one play in any of the four scrimmages.

So how does defensive coordinator Paul Haynes think those three will do without any live tackling in scrimmages? How long will it take them to get their tackling skills back?

Haynes didn't even let the reporter finish the question before he began a detailed explanation on how the defensive staff coaches tackling. It's pretty much the way they do it in the NFL in training camp, too. There are very few live tackling drills anywhere in football these days. It's called "thudding up."

For example, the Hogs aren't tackling to the ground this week in practice, but they are "thudding up" with physical contact at several points in every practice.

"We are having physical practices," Haynes said. "Tank, Alonzo and Eric are doing well, too."

And Haynes emphasized that he didn't want to risk any of those three until they open the season. He suggested that perhaps the Hogs wouldn't be at their peak for the first game, but that's not the goal.

"It's a long season and we don't want to do anything stupid right now," Haynes said. "We want to peak later. We will be better in November than we are now."

Haynes said the key is to continue to work on the techniques and fundamentals in tackling, even while not tackling to the ground.

"We call that thudding up," he said. "It's still the basic techniques. If you come to balance and then wrap up, I think you can let them go at that point. I just don't think you learn to tackle when you just tag them. We do as much thudding up as possible. I think you see guys tackle when you do that.

"We are concentrating on our technique. You see it on tape and it doesn't lie. The technique has to be there even when you are thudding."

Linebackers coach Taver Johnson was nearby when Haynes answered those questions. He was ready when a reporter approached.

"I think you have to know that thudding up is huge for us," Johnson said. "I think you can tell on their tackling as you do that. I think our linebackers have done okay in that area. It's not perfect yet, so we will keep at it.

"What you have to understand is that our expectations as coaches are through the roof. We don't want any missed tackles. None. When we get to that point, that's when we'll be happy. Not until then."

Defensive end Trey Flowers said the Hogs are getting better in the tackling. He said it's improved since this time last year.

"I thought there were too many in the last scrimmage, though," he said. "We all saw them on tape. The key is that you have to be getting to the ball. One miss shouldn't mean a big play. A big play comes when everyone doesn't get to the ball.

"We are trying to get the attitude that you don't slow down. And we want to play with a chip on our shoulder."

That doesn't have anything to do with tackling. It's about hearing that the offense is going to have to carry the load once again.

"Everyone knows the offense is good," Flowers said. "We want to bring the defense up to that level. We want to take the field with a swagger that we are good, too."

It helps when the coaches have a zero tolerance on missed tackles.

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