There were whispers a few years ago that Alan Turner was part of a deal to get defensive tackle Byran Jones out of Junction City, a calf with the cow deal. Don't tell that to Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash. He's pleased to have Turner in the fold as the Arkansas safeties coach.
Turner was ready two weeks ago when Ash wanted to see if he could move to strong safety ahead in a nickel package, ahead of backup TQ Coleman, a junior college transfer. The starter at strong safety, Rohan Gaines, was the top hand at the nickel linebacker spot against spread teams, something that is going to be a steady diet for Ash's defense.
Turner had high marks in the season opener, a 34-14 victory over Louisiana. Turner was third on the team in tackles with six, including three solos. With Gaines bothered by a knee bruise, Turner might be the starter this week against Samford in the base or nickel packages.
"I'm working with the ones right now, but I think Rohan will be back," Turner said. "I just want to be ready for anything. That's my goal, study film and be ready and work hard."
That's what Ash likes from the junior safety. Turner has stepped up and his work ethic is the key to making a good impression with his coach.
"The number one thing with Alan, he comes to work every single day," Ash said. "He's coachable and gives great effort. From the spring, to fall camp, we've judged him on his overall body of work and thought he deserved a chance. I thought he gave tremendous effort on Saturday.
"Alan wasn't perfect in the game, but when you consider he'd been at (strong) for only a little over one week, he did well. I expect improvement this week with the more time he gets there because his effort and work ethic is so high."
Turner made a push after a not-so-great scrimmage to open fall camp. It was the only public viewing of the Hogs. Some came away giddy about tailback Alex Collins and an open-field move that left a safety grasping for air. It was Turner. He smiled when that play came up Wednesday, as did Ash.
"I missed Alex in the open," Turner said. "The only thing that was good is that I knew what I did wrong. I focused on his head. You can't do that with Alex. You can't lock in to his head or you will miss."
Turner was good in the open field against Louisiana, but he was not impressed by his own play.
"I thought I was just OK," he said. "I know there are things I can do better."
Ash recalled the first scrimmage. Again, he said he was judging Turner on his overall body of work, not that day. He also saw that Turner learned from his mistake. He said that's the goal for the entire team after the opener.
"We've got a long way to go," Ash said. "Trey Flowers had some nice plays, but even he'll tell you that he made mistakes. We didn't have the details down. We had some plays where we were looking into the backfield and made mistakes."
What kind of mistakes?
"Our alignment, mainly," Ash said. "We didn't have attention to the details in alignment and that goes for our defensive line, linebackers, corners and safeties. We are not there yet."
But Ash wasn't complaining too much.
"We changed our scheme of defense," Ash said. "It's entirely new, so I didn't expect to be there for the first game. We are going to get there, but only if we hold everyone accountable to every detail. We are taking steps the right direction, but if we don't get better we will have problems against some of the teams on our schedule."
One of the problems is adjusting to scheme after working against the Arkansas offense in the spring and camp. The Hogs are a downhill pro-styled offense. Ash sees "eight or nine" spread teams on the schedule over the next 11 games.
"That's the tough part because we do have a pro-styled offense," he said. "I do think we got used to that at Wisconsin. We played a lot of spread teams and we were downhill, pro-style at Wisconsin. So we know how to do that.
"It is a challenge, but I think we know how to balance it and handle it. We do get some spread teams right out at the start. I think that's good. Now, there will be an adjustment when we get to an SEC spread team with a lot more speed. But when we get to teams that play the way we do on offense, we have worked against that."
That may be when Coleman, intense and physical, gets more time. Head coach Bret Bielema said Coleman is a better match for an offense like the Hogs run. Turner fits better against spread teams. Turner said he's not thinking about that, or the possibility of losing time to Coleman.
"I knew they brought in a junior college player at safety," Turner said. "Me and TQ are good together. We compete against each other. We know we help each other. I don't worry about anything but doing my job, working hard and being prepared for the next play. I expect to play the next play. I know Rohan is coming back, but you have to think like you are the one going to be out there so you are prepared."
There was some thought that middle linebacker Austin Jones was more geared to play smashmouth, but there he was out there for almost every meaningful snap against Louisiana.
"I never got tired," Jones said. "Kudos to our coaches for getting us prepared. I just was so glad to finally get my opportunity.
"We did work a lot against our own offense in camp and that is going to help us when we get to the Alabama type offenses and the teams that play like we do. We'll be prepared for it. But our coaches do a great job of getting us the right work against our scouts on the spread, too. We were ready. If a team wants to run against us, we are ready to go. But we are prepared for the throwing teams, too."
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