When Arkansas' new coaching staff arrived last year, it wasn't sure it had a single middle linebacker on the roster.
But going into Saturday morning's scrimmage, the Razorbacks think they just might have three for the 2014 campaign.
Sophomore starter Brooks Ellis (6-2, 244) will split reps with junior Otha Peters (6-2, 230) and junior college transfer Josh Williams (6-2, 240) on Saturday.
“We are just looking to see who can play and who can make us the best team possible,” Ellis said. “It will be a fun time to run around and full tackle. It's going to be fun.”
Ellis is coming off a freshman season in which he was brought along slowly and eventually ended up starting the last four games of the season.
He ended up with 33 tackles, two for lost yardage with a half sack and a pass broken up with a career high of 11 tackles against Ole Miss in his first start.
“I just know the defense a whole lot better because I have a spring under me and I have experience from last year under me,” Ellis said. “It is a whole different feeling. I feel a lot more mature, I am taking responsibility under my belt and just taking the position more seriously. I just feel better right now than I did a year ago.”
Arkansas has four new linebackers with Williams being joined by a true freshman trio of Randy Ramsey, Khalia Hackett and Dwayne Eugene.
“They are awesome, great,” Ellis said. “They are making us better as starters, pushing the competition level up and making everyone in the linebacker group better. It is great to see them running around. I am excited to see where they go.
“We will find out a whole lot (Saturday) and decides a lot of things if they can tackle and just decide if they can play or not,” Ellis said.
Ellis got a pad pop in on running back Korliss Marshall on Friday in team work.
“He took a toss sweep and I just came up and hit him a little bit,” Ellis said. “Love that. He's good, he's fine. In fact, he just said something to me in the cold tub just joking around.”
Peters is finally healthy, has changed his number and is looking for a fresh start.
“It feels good to be 100 percent finally,” Peters said. “I told y'all awhile ago I had to change that number and this one is doing pretty good for me right now because I haven't been hurt. I have been taking care of my body a lot more. Getting in the cold tub, the hot tub, contrasting. Making sure I get in the training room and be alright for practice."
Peters has played all three spots since arriving on campus, but feels at home at home in the middle.
“I have played Will and Sam since I have been here, but Coach Shannon put me back at Mike because that is what I am – a Mike linebacker.”
Peters believes this is the best bunch of linebackers as a group since he has arrived on campus.
“I think we will be even deeper,” Peters said. “From seeing the freshmen, I think everybody in that room can play. Everybody brings something different to the table. That is what we are going to need to win.”
• • •
Arkansas defensive line coach Rory Segrest knows he has a pair of solid starters in Darius Philon and DeMarcus Hodge, but is looking to the scrimmage to see who is going to step up behind them.
The list of candidates includes the top reserve right now in sophomore Taiwan Johnson, redshirt freshman K-Tyrus Marks, converted offensive lineman Cordale Boyd and true freshmen Bijhon Jackson and Armon Watts.
“I am just looking for guys who are going to compete, step up and just and just take that challenge,” Segrest said. “It is the first day that we kind of get to cut it loose. There should be some excitement. I am ready to see it.”
Marks has not been talked about much with the hoopla surround the two new freshmen.
“He is showing some good quickness and really had a good off-season,” Segrest said. “He has really come a long way this summer. They been doing some drill work on their own on things. You can definitely see that. He obviously still has a ways to go, but you can see progress.”
• • •
Clay Jennings made it clear on Wednesday that he wanted his secondary guys to play with a sense of urgency. He expounded on that after Friday's workout.
He pointed his attention right at redshirt safety DeAndre Coley.
“When I say urgency, it's let's get out of the high school cool look,” Jennings said. “I tell you what. The last two or three days, he's been great. He's been flying around, he's been communicating, he's been getting other people lined up. He has been worrying about the cornerbacks and the linebackers and not just getting himself lined up.”
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