Tuesday Grid Update, 8/20

Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash is excited about the progress his first team is making, but also thrilled that he still has until August 31 to find more consistency and quality reserves.

Seeing as how his first-team defense has not given up a touchdown in the last two scrimmages, Arkansas defensive coordiantor Chris Ash feels pretty good about the group.

But he still has some concerns about the separation between the first and second defensive units and consistency overall and that's why he is happy it's 11 days until the Razorbacks open their season against a solid Louisiana-Lafayette club in Fayetteville on Aug. 31.

"I thought our ones came out (in last Saturday's scrimmage) and played pretty consistent, gave up a couple of decent runs on our first seven plays, but then we settled down and finished strong," Ash said. "Again, it was the second scrimmage in a row with the ones did not give up a touchdown so we are pretty positive about that overall.

"I thought our tackling was pretty good overall in the second scrimmage," Ash added. "Guys were flying to the ball pretty good, we made some nice open field tackles so at the end of the day I was pleased with our ones and the progress they have made.

"Twos, we still have a long way to go,"Ash continued. "We had too many big plays given up, too many missed tackles, missed alignments – just things you can not expect to do if you are going to win games or compete to win games."

Ash noted that the Razorbacks are trying to push themselves through this week to get to game week.

"As coaches we ready to transition into game prep for the first opponent and I think the players are tired of hitting each other and ready to transition," Ash said. "Every year that I have been coaching, it has been the same to this point. You are in week three of a four-week preseason and it gets to be a grind for them. We have got to keep pushing them through, keep being positive and get them better and get them to where we need to be.

"You can see a little bit of that mental and physical exhaustion, but we have got to push them to keep them going a little bit harder and a little bit longer each day," Ash added.

Ash was quick to credit his entire first-team defense when talking about last Saturday's scrimmage. but did acknowledged later that second-team safety Alan Turner did have a very good scrimmage.

"I don't know that any one person stood out, but I just thought overall the ones played good team defense to be honest with you," Ash said. "Guys were in the right spot, guys were taking on blocks, getting off blocks, we leveraged the ball pretty well.

"I would say that if one guy really stood out in the secondary it was Alan Turner at safety," Ash added. "He didn't play very well in the first scrimmage, but came out in the second scrimmage and made a lot of plays. I was really pleased and impressed with the progress he had made from one scrimmage to the next."

Ash stressed again that the defense as a whole is not where he wants it to be.

"We are making progress, but – as I have told you guys before – we are not a finished project by any means," Ash said. "The biggest thing is lack of consistency. We have got to get more consistent, we have got to take on more blocks more consistent, to be in the right spot more consistent, we have got to become better communicators.

"I have a whole checklist of things that we could do a lot better on if we are going to have a chance to win games," Ash added. "But we have made progress and we are headed in the right direction."

Ash continues to juggle at the linebacker spots with second-team middle linebacker Otha Peters out for a while with a broken arm.

That means true freshman Brooks Ellis – who worked at outside linebacker in the scrimmage – is now back in the middle to back up starter Austin Jones, who did not practice Saturday due to a dinged shoulder but has now returned to practice.

Jarrett Lake and Braylon Mitchell hold down the other two first-team linebacker spots with junior college transfer Martrell Spaight and Daunte Carr or redshirt senior Price Holmes backing them up.

A.J. Turner would be in the mix, but can't get healthy enough to stay out on the field right now.

"We're fine," Ash said. "...It's not a lot different to be honest with you. Brooks Ellis is doing a nice job. Otha was getting better and I wish he could still be out there with us continuing to get better with the reps, but he's not so we will deal with what we've got and keep moving on. It doesn't change anything really."

Jones and Holmes are both former walk-ons who were awarded scholarships on Sunday night.

"It's great for them," Ash said. "They committed themselves to the program and made sacrifices both personally and financially to be here. They give you all that they've got.

"We need to build up the walk-on program here at the University of Arkansas," Ash continued. "We have to build up the tradition so things like that continue to happen down the road for quality walk-ons – guys that continue to develop late and become potential starters and contributors for you on special teams. That is what we did at Wisconsin."

Ash pointed out that is where former Wisconsin and current Houston Texan defensive end J.J. Watt – one of the NFL's best defenders – got his start.

"J.J. Watt was a walk-on," Ash said. "There are several examples that we had in the program there and we are going to look to do the same here. It tells you a lot about those kids to be able to come in, work the way they have done, be persistent and be told 'now you are on scholarship.'"

Ash also touched on some spots where depth was a concern, especially the cornerbacks.

"We are nowhere being ready to play a game and we have 12 days to go to continue to try to improve and get closer to that," Ash said. "They are like everybody else. They are too inconsistent right now and we want guys that can compete and compete consistently to be in the right spots. It is our job as coaches to make sure we get that done, but right now they are not ready to play a game and depth is a concern at that position and mike linebacker are my two biggest concerns right now."

The return of starting safety Rohan Gaines from injury has helped out in the back of the defense.

"Rohan is knocking off some rust right now," Ash said. "He is smart kid and he took good notes during the time he was out, but it is different than when you are out on the field. You have got to be able to read your keys, react, communicate out there quickly and efficiently. He is struggling with that right now getting back out there, but he'll be fine in the long run. He has only been back out there a couple of days. He was much better today than he was yesterday and I expect he'll be a lot better tomorrow than he was today.

"When Rohan was healthy, I thought him and Eric Bennett were playing pretty well together back there until the injury," Ash added. "TQ Coleman has gotten a lot of reps with the ones and provided us a lot of depth. I have been pleased with his program and performance throughout camp. Right now our ones are Rohan and Eric Bennett and our twos are TQ and Alan Turner. I think the way they have progress, they have closed the gaps and can be quality back ups."

Ash sees starters Byran Jones and Robert Thomas along with reserves Darius Philon and DeMarcus Hodge as a solid four-man rotation at the defensive tackles.

Jones missed about a week of practice.

"He's been great," Ash said. "He got back out there and has to practice himself into shape, but he has been great to have him out and its great having four defensive tackles that we can use out there.

Ash raved about the difference in redshirt freshman Philon, who was left at the alter by Alabama head coach Nick Saban on signing date and ended up a Razorback.

"Philon has probably been one of the surprises of camp," Ash said. "He has really done an outstanding job from where he was when we got here to where he is now. He has changed his body, he has changed his attitude, his outlook, his work ethic – just everything. He has really bought in and has been a really pleasant surprise out there every single day."

He noted that redshirt freshman Brandon Lewis has separated himself from the pack as the number three defense end behind starters Chris Smith and Trey Flowers while redshirt freshman Deatrich Wise had placed himself fourth in that rotation.

Arkansas worked out Tuesday in its home and away jerseys.

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