As the season gets closer, Arkansas linebackers coach Randy Shannon gets that much more confident in the guys he's working with this season.
That group includes vets Brooks Ellis, Martrell Spaight, Braylon Mitchell, Daunte Carr as well as newcomers Josh Williams, Randy Ramsey, Khalia Hackett and Dwayne Eugene – the latter three all true freshmen.
“We feel a lot better, just because they are buying in,” Shannon said. “The group we had last year, those were some good guys. But like anything, you want guys that are eager and ready to go and understand the importance of team and what direction we're going.”
With less than two weeks left before the season opener at Auburn, Shannon assessed his group after Tuesday's workout.
“The last couple of weeks we've been going pretty hard at practice and the young guys have really been picking some good things up coming out of high school,” Shannon said. “Josh is doing a great job with Brooks Ellis being out of practice. He practiced today, but we're going to keep him out of certain things. We've been doing a lot of good things in the red zone work. Guys are getting a lot of work and making plays and we're getting a little bit enthusiasm as a group, as a linebacking corps. Guys are more attentive and more enthusiastic with each other.
“Spaight is really picking up his game and the way he's playing,” Shannon added. “He's doing a lot of great things. Great competition between Braylon and Daunte Carr, and the young kid, Randy Ramsey is really pressing the issue also. I'm' really excited about the things they're doing, but like anything else, they've got to keep staying positive and mentally and physically they have to do the things to be tougher to make sure we're successful at linebacker."
Spaight, a junior college All-American out of Coffeyville, Kan., Community College, missed spring ball and arrived late in the summer of 201. He seemingly played catch up throughout the season.
Shannon sees him much more prepared this season.
“He got a chance to learn,” Shannon said. “He went through spring football, summer, getting some actually teaching and learning instead of just jumping the fire last year. I that was the one biggest thing that was tough for him... missed spring football...He comes in during the summer, then as the season starts, he's trying to learn on the run. But I think he understanding the game, he's understanding the mistakes he's making, but also when he makes a mistakes, he comes back and corrects it on the field, which is really positive.”
Ellis has been slowed by a kneecap situation and sit out the entire scrimmage.
“He did some things today,” Shannon said. “He went through some indo (individual drills) today and did some drills in special teams, and things like that. Like anything, you come back and you give half of practice or a quarter of a practice, parts of drills, some contact, and then you back him off. It's like anything. You come back from being sore. You don't want to just jump into it, but he moved around well in indo and did some good things in some drills that we worked on. He should be fine and ready to go a couple of days from now.”
Ellis' absence has benefited Williams, the true sophomore was arrived in June after playing at Dodge City, Kan., CC as a freshman.
“A lot,” Shannon said. “Really, really, really paid off, especially in the scrimmage this last week, Josh was unbelievable. He was fitting the run game, his passing game was unbelievable and he keeps progressing. Give somebody a chance to play, and he capitalizing on that and doing a lot of good things. I'm happy to see that, because like anything, the more depth you have the more successful you'll be.”
Hackett has also got more reps and stepped forward according to Shannon.
“Khalia's been doing a great job,” Shannon said. “The first weeks he was in la-la land. But after this last scrimmage, he understands what we're trying to get out of him. And he's been very, very physical. He's been doing a great job in pass coverage. And he's physical in the run game. He's a very physical young man, and he's got a lot of growth potential muscularly and everything else.”
Shannon expects all three of those true freshman to play this season.
“Right now those three guys are on special teams for us, like second-team and doing some good things,” Shannon said. “Right now they're running with the twos, so right now if the game was starting, they'd be playing in the game in some capacity. But like anything else, we've just got to keep bringing them along, and hopefully they'll be able to do the things we need to get done."
Shannon notes that he feels much better about his linebackers at this point this season than last.
“A lot better,” Shannon said. “Because you have some things that you're seeing. Guys are eager, there's competition, Young guys don't know no better, so they're willing to learn and gravitate to what you're trying to get done. If you look at the group, we've got Braylon and Daunte as older guys, and Spaight is really only in his second year. Daunte has been a long time … Then we've got five other guys, with Ellis, that are young. So when have the old guys and young guys, the old guys tend to get energy and excitement to them, which is really good for us."
Ramsey had a great first scrimmage, but missed some tackles in last Saturday's workout due to missed time from an injury.
“Like anything, you've got practice to get better, and he was out until maybe the day before,” Shannon said. “But like anything, it's two-a-days, it's summer time, you've got push a young man to go through it, And he understood what we were trying to get out of him. This week we've been working on his tackling to build on what he did the first week and tell him, forget about the second week, because you weren't really ready because of the reps in practice.”
Shannon's Linebackers Buying In This Season
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