When Arkansas redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Darius Philon hears himself described as a play-maker, he thinks about it in a different way than most likely do.
To Philon (6-3, 287) it's about being in the right spot and doing the right thing every play regardless of whether you get credit for the tackle.
“Being a play-maker is where you just listen to the coaches, basically taking coaching and criticism and going out and having fun at what you do,” Philon said. “There is nothing wrong with being a play-maker all the time, but it is about making the right plays at the right time. That's when you know you are a play-maker.”
Philon – who was left at the alter by Alabama's Nick Saban on signing day and ended up inking with the Razorbacks instead - certainly showed flashes of his talent in his sophomore season.
He played in all 12 Arkansas games, starting the last five and amassing 46 tackles. He also had nine tackles for lost yardage, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two quarterback hurries.
Philon had a career-high eight tackles in his first start – ironically against Saban's Crimson Tide – and finished the season with six tackles against LSU while being named an All-SEC freshman selection and a second-team freshman All-American.
Philon's role is set to expand both on the field and as a leader with seniors Byran Jones and Robert Thomas out the door.
“This year basically I know that I have a bigger role than what I had last year so I just take my time and do whatever the coaches ask me to do and then I just feed off of what they tell me,” Philon said. “Me being around for three years now, the kids that are coming in after me they look up to me and look at me as a big brother to give them feedback on what they need to do in the process of going to school and getting what they need to do right.”
The Razorbacks have put in three days of work so far and he likes what he sees from the defensive line group coached by Rory Segrest.
“Man, everything is just a work in progress,” Philon said. “Everybody is just staying together and staying focused, coming together as a team, knowing how to practice. My game, I am still working and getting better every day and focusing on what I need to do fundamentally and listening to Coach Segrest and all my coaching staff. Hopefully they are telling me the right things.”
Philon and redshirt junior DeMarcus Hodge are the first-team defensive tackles with Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise at the end spots.
Wise knows that Flowers is likely to see double teams and that will open up things for the other three defenders.
“Knowing that he will get double-teamed, that leaves the rest of us on one-and-one blocks so that should give us more opportunities to make plays,” Wise said.
The Razorbacks have two incoming freshmen defrensive tackles in El Dorado's Bijhon Jackson and St, Louis' Armon Watts.
“Looking at them coming in as a freshmen, they can help us out as a team,” Philon said. “But they still have work to do as a freshmen coming in. Some people might think they are ready, but at the same time playing in the SEC some people are just not ready to play right away.”
Segrest thinks Jackson has a lot of potential, especially after spending some time with strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert.
“He came in and he was a little soft-looking when he first came in the door, but he has worked with Herb in the off-season here and has really kind of transformed his body a little bit,” Segrest said. “He is in better shape, a lot stronger than when he first got here and I am looking forward to great things from him.”
Philon is of a belief that the whole defense is ready to push forward.
“Everybody is working, everybody is on the same page trying to climb the ladder up,” Philon said. “There is no individual that we can talk about as all of us are working together as a team and as a unit.”
• • •
Segrest also has Brandon Lewis and Jamichael Winston primed to go at defensive end this season.
“We'll find out,” Segrest said. “Obviously we are counting on him and they know the spotlight is on them so they have been working real hard and have put themselves in position to be able to compete.”
He also plans to use redshirt freshmen Karl Roesler (6-3, 250), who had a good spring, in some situational packages.
“He has got some quick twitch about him, got some speed off the edge and we are hoping to use him in some situations,” Segrest said. “He has developed his body in the off season so he's gotten a little bit stronger. Again, we have got a lot of guys that we are working at that defensive end position so we will just kind of see how things unfold at those positions.”
• • •
Arkansas linebackers coach Randy Shannon is obviously very pleased with having more options to work with these season, but he is hesitant to fall in love too much until full pads are on and he sees how the group does in Saturday's scrimmage.
Junior college transfer Josh Williams is working in the middle along with Brooks Ellis and Otha Peters.
“The first two days in shorts, you can't really tell much of anything,” Shannon said. “We had inside run today and he (Williams) did a nice job on a couple of run things, fitted in nice, butted a couple of guys up with some big hits. I am just kind of excited to see how he does in the scrimmage situations. He is a guy that we have high hopes for like all the guys we bring in.”
The other linebacker spots have Braylon Mitchell, Daunte Carr and freshman working at strong linebacker with the Weakside linebacker spot seeing vets Martrell Spaight and Tiquention Coleman backed up by true freshman Dwayne Eugene and Khalia Hackett.
“We have got some young guys that have come in and are doing a good job for us now and we are kind of excited about the athletic ability,” Shannon said. “They are picking it up on the base defense and things like that we are working on. They are making a few plays and they are making a couple of mistakes. One of the great things about it is that the older guys like Braylon and a couple of other guys are really helping the other guys.
“...They understand that if one of the older guys get nicked or something happens, the younger guys will have to play. They are doing a great job of understanding the purpose of team and having the group as a linebacker group.”
• • •
Secondary coach Clay Jennings lauded his trio of vets in Carroll Washington, Jared Collins and Tevin Mitchel, but says that Will Hines is another returnee that is not faring as well as the aforementioned trio.
“He is not always consistent, but with those long arms he has made a couple of plays on some slants,” Jennings said. “If I can get his eyes in the right place, I think he may be able to help us...The one thing is that we are not going to give anything. We are going to earn everything.”
True freshmen Cornelius Floyd and Henre' Toliver – now up to 190 from 172 when he signed - have flashed some talent and also looked lost per Jennings.
“It is still early for them,” Jennings said. “A couple of times they have looked like deer caught in the headlights, but that is my job as a coach to get them going in the right direction. Floyd had a couple of good reps today in one-on-one and Henre' had a pick in that last team segment. It is baby steps and it is day three, but I am very pleased with them.”
DeAndre Coley is a redshirt freshmen who made a move in the spring, but Jennings says he is battling incosistency right now.
“Coley is hot and cold, but he is a redshirt freshman and we just have to get him more consistent so he can be there to help us,” Coley said. “...He just has to have a sense of urgency all the time.”
Bijhon Jackson (78) and Arkansas defensive linemen go through drills.
Philon Ready To Make Big Splash
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