State of the Hogs: NASCAR

Price Holmes and Jarrett Lake give the Hogs something special on the outside. Linebackers step up in camp. The restrictor plates are gone.

I'm not up on all the cool stuff in NASCAR racing. I do pay attention when someone tries to explain the merits of restrictor plates for a couple of the tracks. It seems to go against the whole idea of turning loose a race car. It reminds me of the handicap horse racing where someone decides which horses carry more weight.

All of that would seem like giving the rest of the field a head start against Usain Bolt, although that might be the only way to find out exactly how fast the Jamaican can cover 100 meters. He'd probably still win.

NASCAR and track speed came to mind when I listened to Price Holmes explain the term defensive coordinator Chris Ash has tied to the Arkansas nickel defense. They all it NASCAR. I'm guessing it has something to do with getting more speed on the field to cover the spread formations.

Holmes, the senior from Newport, converted wide receiver to safety to linebacker and now owns a scholarship because he can cover in space. He won't be listed as a starter in the base defense, but he may be on the field a lot when the Hogs play spread teams with three and four wide receivers.

At 6-3, 211, Holmes still looks a little bit more like a wideout than a linebacker, but he's gained weight every year. He's up from 206 this time last year.

It's a neat story, but it goes nicely with Jarrett Lake's meteoric rise as the top playmaker on the defense. You'll see Price's 22 jersey and Lake's 39 in close proximity in the NASCAR package.

"I go in for his spot, and Jarrett moves down as a walk down defensive end," Price said. "We are on the same side. It's mainly in passing situations or substitutions by what the other team has on the field or down and distance."

Most are concerned with how the Hogs line up in base. That's a 4-3 with three true linebackers. In the SEC, not many teams outside of Alabama and LSU allow you to play base. The goal is to get you in that nickel situation and make you go with speed against speed.

That's fine with Price because it gets him on the field and that's when Ash has mixed things up in the past. His third down defense or against the spread doesn't look like a 4-3. There is a lot of stand-up personnel on the field in that scheme, including that NASCAR package.

"We can line up in base with that personnel, or we can blitz," Price said. "We've got a lot in that package."

Lake has been the wild card in the Arkansas defense this year. Ash calls him the player that would be picked first in a draft of defensive personnel after this fall camp. Ash raved about his effort, ability to close ground and make plays after the spring. He's gone up a notch in that area, plus added leadership.

"He's my roommate so I love talking about Lake," said Chris Smith, defensive end. "He's probably our best linebacker. He isn't just a player, but he's our leader.

"I get excited just talking about Lake. He stays fired up and excited. I think he's going to show out on Saturdays."

Head coach Bret Bielema praised Lake's emotional leadership on media day, pointing out that he's done cart wheels coming onto the field to start practices.

"He's done that, and sometimes he just rolls out there onto the field when we are starting practice," Price said. "I'd call them just forward head rolls. He might do anything. But he has done a few cart wheels."

The rage of practice over the past week has been Martrell Spaight's hits and word that players came up with the term "you've been Spaighted." Safety Rohan Gaines calls Spaight the Terminator, perhaps with the thought, "I'll be back."

Price said, "If Martrell is out there, keep an eye on him."

The good news is that there are several linebackers worth watching. Apparently, linebackers coach Randy Shannon is working his magic just like the did at Miami and TCU, his last stop where a walk-on developed into an all-conference performer.

"Coach Shannon has made it simple for us," Lake said. "He dumbs it down so we can play fast."

Perhaps the restrictor plates -- too much thinking -- are gone from the Arkansas linebackers. Shannon is in the process of turning them loose.

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