State of the Hogs: Coverage Sacks

Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes doesn't pretend not to be calling more blitzes, but improvement might be more about better coverage than pressure.

Auburn and Kentucky each scored but one touchdown against an Arkansas defense that was plundered earlier this year by Louisiana-Monroe, Alabama, Rutgers and Texas A&M. The common thought among fans is that Paul Haynes dialed up more blitzes in the last two games.

Haynes, defensive coordinator and safeties coach, confirmed at Wednesday's Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club that there might have been a few more blitzes in the last two games as he grew more comfortable with the potential for success in a call. But it was more about improved coverage.

It goes along with my theory about what showed up in eight sacks against Auburn. The Hogs were finally getting some coverage sacks. They've taken away the quick throw by walking the cornerbacks tighter on the wideouts.

"The game plan does change from week to week," Haynes told the group. "But the main thing, we were actually covering better. We were getting there with four-man pressure."

Blitzes are easier to call, Haynes said, if he believes the blitzers have the ability to get to the quarterback.

"You ask yourself, can we blitz?" he said. "By that I mean, do we have guys who can blitz?

"We will continue to bring pressure, but it might be controlled. You don't want to put (a young secondary) in a bad position. This week we see a style of offense that I think you must be aggressive. Sometimes they just run plays to run them and they run them into the pressure. You have to be aggressive against that style."

It might be more of a change in the way the defensive ends play.

"Our defensive ends have come along," Haynes said. "But we haven't done a lot different. What has been different is maybe we tried to stop the run too much. We let the (ends) go more. We told them to get up the field and rush the quarterback. As confidence has grown, we've let them bend the edge more and get after the quarterback.

"This week in Bo Wallace, the Ole Miss quarterback, they try to run a ton of plays and run the quarterback. He does a good job. It's fast paced option. We have to be disciplined and we also know they are going to try to throw over the top with play action. The key isn't so much the yards we allow, but keep them out of the end zone and we also can't be frustrated if they get a couple."

The Ole Miss goal will be to create one-on-one matchups in the open field and see if the Hogs have truly improved their tackling, a problem early in the season but not as apparent in the last two weeks. But the Rebels have more speed than the last two foes.

The Hogs have two older players back in the mix in the secondary with the return of sophomore Tevin Mitchel and senior Kaelon Kelleybrew, both cornerbacks. Mitchel is back to his starting spot and Kelleybrew has been cross trained at nickel and dime packages to put one more cover man on the field to help Star safety/linebacker Ross Rasner. The Hogs still will play a lot of youth in redshirt freshmen Rohan Gaines (safety) and Davyon McKinney (cornerback) along with true freshman Will Hines (cornerback).

"We are young back there and we have to make sure we don't put them in a bad position," Haynes said. "At the same time, we want to challenge them. This is why you signed with Arkansas, to play in the SEC West. I think the sky is the limit for these guys."

Mitchel has been one of the stars of practice of late, after coming back from a concussion and then gall bladder surgery. He will start this week after playing most of the game against Kentucky. He had not played since the ULM game.

"Tevin has bounced back great," Haynes said. "If you saw him in practice, you would not have thought anything had been wrong. You wonder if he might come back a little tentative, but if anything, he's been more aggressive. He's been awesome. He has been on our special teams. He's been awesome to watch."

The Hogs will start A. J. Turner at weakside linebacker for the second straight week. He's a true freshman from Lepanto.

"When you go into the season, you wonder which freshmen might emerge," Haynes said. "You could see that he made plays in high school and you knew how athletic he was on the basketball court. You just didn't know if he was big enough."

Turner is still not very big. He might not be any more than the 216 he carried in August two-a-days.

"But he's doing the same thing in games that you saw in practice film, when he really flashed," Haynes said. "He might not always be in the right spot, but he has the instincts and he flashes."

Haynes said both Turner and Otha Peters, another true freshman linebacker, have taken to the coaching of Taver Johnson.

"A. J. is a treat," Haynes said. "You can get after him. Freshman don't always know what they don't know -- so you can get after him and he responds. Coach Johnson gets after A. J. and Otha, they just smile and say, 'Yes sir, coach.' And they get back after it."

Haynes said the Hogs need more like them. He said the needs in recruiting on defense start with linebacker and safety.

"We need four linebackers in this next class and we need to get more safeties," Haynes said. "As far as the defensive front, we lose some there. But we have some coming back and we have some good young players who are going to be good in the front.

"Linebackers and safeties, that's all guys that play on special teams. We need more. You look and we have Rohan Gaines and Ross Rasner on a lot of special teams. That's snaps each game that wear you down as the year goes on. So that's why I say we need more."

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