If the first day of practice is any sign, there just may be a major push forward from Arkansas' linebackers this fall.
That was the take of head coach Bret Bielema, who saw things he liked from a quartet of newcomers in junior college transfer Josh Williams (6-2, 240) and true freshmen Randy Ramsey (6-4, 222), Dwayne Eugene (6-1, 236) and Khalia Hackett (6-3, 231).
“At linebacker, we are going to try and feel Josh Williams out and see what he can bring to the table,” Bielema said. “(Sophomore starting middle linebacker) Brooks Ellis (6-2, 244), we really feel good about playing multiple positions for us. And those three linebackers that we recruited are very, very talented and very athletic.”
The speed in the linebacking corp has certainly been enhanced through recruiting.
“Just day one without pads, they look really good,” Bielema said. “...Without a doubt we recruited more speed. Marttrell (Spaight) used to stand out because of how fast he was. Those other three guys, those freshmen, are just as fast as Martrell. It does so you that recruiting can make a change overnight.”
Arkansas had several freshmen play roles last season and linebacker coach Randy Shannon expects that to be the case again this season.
“I'm excited about them,” Shannon said. “Maybe they can come in and contribute and do some things. You look at what we did last year in recruiting – Denver (Kirkland), Alex (Collins), (Dan) Skipper), Korliss (Marshall), (Hunter) Henry and D.J. Dean. That was a good six or seven guys that came in and hopefully out of this group we can get six or seven that can help in that kind of fashion.
“I'm excited to see what those guys can do. You try to get better than what you already have on your football team so we are excited about it as a staff.”
Shannon got a look at Williams in high school in Florida before he headed off to Dodge City, Kan., Community College. He has three years of eligibility.
“Josh was a full qualifier out of high school at about 190 pounds,” Shannon said. “Typical South Florida kid in that he doesn't have much weight. In South Florida, they lift weights, but they really don't lift weights. He went to junior college and he ballooned up to 230 and played well there at linebacker and did a lot of great things that we are excited about.
“We are excited about having him on the team,” Shannon added. “He is very smart and in talking to Braylon Mitchell – who I lean heavily on – says that he is very smart, very energetic, runs well and is an explosive young man that we are excited to have.”
Williams will work at middle linebacker for the time being according to Shannon.
“For him just coming in the first time, we will teach him one spot to start off with and let guys like Braylon and those seniors and juniors play all of them to provide depth.”
“We are excited about those guys – all guys from 6-4 to 220 pounds with a lot of speed and a lot of athletic ability on the football field. You look at them and think that can contribute minimally on special teams. Now we have got to see what they can do and have that competition at the linebacker spots.”
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