Alan Turner: Passion for Football

Senior safety Alan Turner excites his coaches with his love for the game of football. Here's a post-spring look at the safety prospects for the Razorbacks, including player assessments from defensive coordinator Robb Smith.

Arkansas safety Alan Turner had been begging quarterback Brandon Allen to make a mistake that he could capitalize on.

So when he saw the ball leave Allen's right arm during one of the Razorbacks' scrimmages last spring, Turner recognized the opportunity had arrived. He read the pass, made a break on the ball and ended up with a big play for Arkansas' defense.

"I didn't rub it in too much," Turner said about his conversation with Allen afterward. "I had been messing with him because I've been telling him to throw me one. He's like, ‘Nah, I'm not going to throw you one.' So I messed with him a little."

That type of confidence was on display throughout the spring for Turner, who finished his junior season as Arkansas' leader in tackles (97) and interceptions (2).

It was unexpected for a player who carried little fanfare when he arrived in 2010 outside of being former Arkansas defensive tackle Byran Jones' high school teammate. The 6-foot, 201-pound Turner saw little playing time early in his Arkansas career, but it hasn't taken long for new defensive coordinator Robb Smith to identify the returning starter as a vital part of plans once again as the Razorbacks try to improve a defense that ranked among the SEC's worst in 2014.

"I like AT a lot," Smith said during spring practice. "He's a guy that when you're around you can really sense loves the game of football. That energy really carries out throughout our defense and provides a leadership that we have there. A passion to the game. That's how you have to play defensive football. You have to be a passionate guy. He's really improving and we're excited for big things for him."

Turner, a Junction City native, was the most consistent performer in Arkansas' secondary last season even though he wasn't expected to be a starter last summer.

He was with the starting defense for the opener against Louisiana-Lafayette because the Razorbacks faced a spread offense. So a third safety was needed. But Turner became a lineup regular the rest of the way after returning starter Rohan Gaines suffered a knee injury in that game and was hobbled most of the season.

Turner recorded a career-high 16 tackles against Mississippi State. He also accounted for two of Arkansas' six interceptions (Ole Miss, LSU). But it wasn't always easy for Turner in a secondary picked on by opponents all season.

Turner certainly made his share of mistakes in the losses, teaming with Eric Bennett at safety. He also played through some personal sadness, too, after finding out the night before the Samford game last September his father died after battling cancer.

Turner decided to stay and play with his teammates. Linebacker Braylon Mitchell said at the time that Turner, who was his roommate their first two years on campus, was "strong." Former defensive coordinator Chris Ash said at the time he was "impressed" by Turner's strength and desire to stick with the team.

"It was tough, but I knew I wanted to play for him," Turner said. "I practiced all week and I didn't want to let my team down. I just wanted to go out there and give it my all. It was pretty hard, but at the same time, it's something I love. It was just something that, like, take it off, let it go. It's just eased me because I love the sport."

The experiences — both good and bad — have helped shaped Turner for a senior season he's hoping will be memorable. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said the safety was one of the "driving forces" of the offseason and will continue to lead a group that includes Gaines, the hard-hitting De'Andre Coley and Davyon McKinney.

Arkansas got a glimpse of the group's potential during the Red-White game last April. Turner led the safeties with seven tackles, but McKinney and Coley also intercepted passes thrown by Allen. Gaines stepped in front of a pass thrown by quarterback Austin Allen and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown.

"Those guys are enthusiastic every day. They've got a smile on their face," Arkansas defensive backs coach Clay Jennings said during the spring. "As long as they're giving great effort, it's my job to make sure I put them in the right position to win."

That would mean plenty to Turner, who was used to winning in high school. He was a two-way star at Class 2A power Junction City, teaming with Jones to win three straight championships. Turner played running back and safety with the program and earned all-state honors for his performance. He was also a standout basketball player.

Still, Turner had to wait a long time to get a scholarship offer from the Razorbacks. In fact, former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino and his staff didn't offer Turner a scholarship until roughly two weeks before signing day. Turner gladly accepted it after receiving some interest from other schools like Auburn and Baylor.

Now he's one of Arkansas' most important defensive players.

Turner joined Kenoy Kennedy (1998-99), Ken Hamlin (2000, 2002), Vickiel Vaughn (2004) and Matt Hewitt (2007) as Arkansas safeties to lead the team in tackles during a season. Arkansas hopes its linebackers will be much more involved in 2014, but Turner would join Kennedy as the only safety to lead the team in tackles in consecutive seasons if he finishes on top of the team's chart once again.

"I just want to be one of those guys that comes out with confidence and tries to make the defense as a whole better," Turner said about his role. "Just do anything I can. I feel like we're taking great strides and we're going to get better."

Smith is optimistic the Razorbacks will improve as well.

But he said Turner's steady play will be key to any turnaround.

"He's a veteran guy for us," Smith said. "He's played a lot of football here. He brings leadership to the field and he flies around out there with an intensity. It's great to have him out there for us. … We've just got to keep pushing him forward."

Safety Assessments from defensive coordinator Robb Smith:

Strong Safety
Alan Turner (6-0, 201, Sr.) — I'm a big Alan Turner fan. He loves to play football and those guys are a lot of fun to coach. He has an infectious personality. The care factor is very high with Alan. He is a guy we are counting on to make a lot of tackles. When they bring extra guys into the box, you bring extra guys into the box. He's a guy we have great confidence in that scenario. We also will use him in our dollar position. Especially in those third and medium range, when you can get a guy like that as part of your under coverage as a tackler and he can get a guy down before he gets to the sticks, those guys are worth their weight in gold.

De'Andre Coley (6-1, 191, Fr.) — Some of the biggest hits of the spring were from Coley. That's not just scrimmages, but in practices as well. He's a physical player. The one thing about him, the range in the way he played the deep ball really improved and that will help him become a complete safety. He's still learning the system and needs experience. But he's catching up to those other guys, he is. He made a big play to open the spring game. It was a good read on his part to recognize the cluster and finds a way to come up with the football. He was part of quite a few turnovers this spring, whether it was a forced fumble or an interception.

Tiquention Coleman (5-10, 207, Sr.) — What I love about TQ, he brings a physicality and a level of speed to that position which can help us, especially when we get into teams that play three and four wide receivers. I thought his performance in the spring game that was indicative of the improvement that he made throughout the spring and finding a niche for himself on this defense. He's not afraid. He will run through an open gap which is very encouraging. For the overall depth of this defense, he's got to do a lot of things. It's all hands on deck. To have (safety) in his back pocket is something that is valuable to us down the road. When he comes to our building, he goes to the linebacker room, but he also spends time with me and Coach (Clay) Jennings. It's based on situation for the day.

Matt Dodson (5-10, 201, Fr.) — He's an extremely hard worker. As he keeps improving, he could find himself a role on this team. He gave us a lot of valuable reps this spring. He's a smart guy who really understands what we are trying to accomplish.

Free Safety
Rohan Gaines (5-11, 186, Jr.) — Overall, Rohan had a good spring for us. He has a good understanding of our defense, with the calls and checks that need to be made at the free safety position. That will be very valuable to us. As far as the (touchdown allowed late in the first half of the spring game), I think he semi misplayed it and I don't think he wanted to have a full blowup on one of our guys. I'm not making excuses. But I think he found himself in a bad spot. We'd love to see him make a play on the football. He was a guy who was out there for us every single day and didn't beg out of anything. He made a really nice play on the slant to get the pick six in the spring game. That was more of an awareness play than a physical play. It's just being a good, smart safety.

Davyon McKinney (6-3, 200, Jr.) — When they told me his nickname was Sleepy, I asked if there were any other nicknames. He said, ‘They also call me Buddy.' I told him we'd stick with Sleepy. He's played corner here and that's an advantage because it gives you some cover skills bonus as a safety, especially when you want to pressure and those guys get matched up on a slot receiver. I'm hoping that some of the lumps they have taken in the past will pay dividends in the very near future.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories