Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash had a description for the way the Razorbacks played against top-ranked Alabama in a 52-0 loss last week.
"Awful," Ash said after Wednesday's practice, the first time he's visited with the media since the trip to Tuscalossa. Ash was displeased with the tackling over the last few weeks and questioned the toughness and courage of the defense.
"There is no other way to put it," he said, about his thoughts on an "awful" performance at Albama.
"It's been a disappointment here the last couple of weeks. Some things that we did were better but the number one thing that stood out was tackling. We missed some tackles that led to some big plays.
"We just have got to get that stuff better. I mean when you look at out missed tackles there are three things that really I attribute it to: One is fundamentals. We have to coach fundamentals more and more more and get them to understand it. Two with some guys there may be some talent issues out in space against a team like Alabama. And there may be some guys that don't have the courage or toughness that need right now, too."
Is it discouraging? How does he keep the players upbeat? And what about the coaches? How do they move forward despite the recent struggles and a five-game losing streak?
"Well, I have no issues keeping myself upbeat," Ash said. "We came here and we knew this wasn't going to be an easy job. We understand where we are at. Nobody has to tell me that we're struggling. I know that. I see that.
"That's the first part of building a plan for success, realizing where you are at and being honest and realistic about it and start finding solutions and that's where we are at right now. Nobody said this was going to be easy."
Ash said he's never said the Hogs were good on defense. He said from the start that defense had a long way to go. He said that after the spring and again in fall camp.
"Nobody said this was going to be an overnight turnaround just because a new staff walked in the door," he said. "If you guys listened to my message all along we were getting better, but I didn't tell you we were very good yet.
"And I think as you watch, we are not. But we are continuing to get better. A lot of people want to talk about improvement being measure on the scoreboard and that's what a lot of people look at, but there are so many things in this program that we have improved on from back in the spring until today.
"And we are light years ahead of where we were but still a long, long, long way to go. But I don't worry about my spirits. The players are in great spirits and they understand the big picture and what we are trying to get done here. They have been great."
Is it time to play younger defenders? Specifically, will true freshmen Brooks Ellis (linebacker) and D. J. Dean (cornerback) get more playing time?
"Right now," Ash said, "we are trying to decide in what direction we are going to go but yeah, absolutely those two guys will be on the field in some capacity more than they have."
There was a developmental theme early in the week.
"Yesterday was a bunch of developmental practice with the young guys, today we practiced with the ones and twos," Ash said. "We had good spirit, good energy, we got a head start on Auburn a little bit todaywhich was good. Guys came out and had a good practice."
Obviously, recruiting is the long-term answer, but what is the goal short term?
"We just have got to keep doing what we are doing," Ash said. "There is no magic formula. If there was a quick fix on things like this, somebody would put it in a bottle and sell it to somebody.
"Right now we have a plan. We know what we want to be in the long term, we just have got to keep that plan going, keep working it every single day. We can't jump ship on what we are trying to do and trying to build. We have got to stick to the plan, stick to the formula that we have had success with in the past and long term hopefully it works out."
Linebacker coach Randy Shannon said the goal is to "work hard" every day with an eye towards improving. He said it should help that his unit is getting healthy with Otha Peters and Martrell Spaight getting full speed in the bye week.
One of the problems has been "a round robin tournament" at middle linebacker.
"We started camp with Daunte Carr, Austin Jones and Otha Peters there," Shannon said. "Otha went down, and then Austin was hurt. We moved Brooks Ellis there, then Jarrett Lake to mike after working him at will as an outside blitzer. He found we needed a mike linebacker and we moved Jarrett there.
"We had to move Braylon Mitchell from mike to will. Martrell has been injured at sam. I'm not complaining, just stating where we are. It's like that in football.
"We are looking for some consistency. They make plays at times, but they are inconsistent. I think there is some hustle and effort, but it's the mistakes and the inconsistency that hurts."
Shannon said Ellis played in some limited packages more last week against Alabama.
"We are trying to build a package and expand it for Brooks," Shannon said. "There are some good things and some inconsistencies. We want to build some things to his abilities."
Lake said he's fine with middle linebacker.
"I think it allows me to make more plays," Lake said. "Yes, there was a certain package we worked on in camp but I like this role (at middle linebacker). I think it puts me in the best place to make the most plays."
Lake said he would play all three in one game if needed.
"I know the defense," he said. "Coach can put me anywhere he wants. I can play them all and I don't mind."
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