Even though he is just finishing up his sophomore year, Brooks Ellis looks around the Arkansas linebacker room and sees he’s the old man of the bunch.
That’s because Ellis (6-2, 237), who had 10 tackles in Saturday’s scrimmage, has a trio of freshman and one junior college transfer around him – none of which have seen near the amount of snaps that he has.
“Yeah, I am the old guy so I have got to keep them all in line, but they are doing a good job,” Ellis said. “I have to take over (senior Matrell) Spaight's role as a leader. We are different people, but I have to step it up a little bit.”
Ellis is coming off a sophomore season in which he had 72 tackles, 5.5 tackles for lost yardage, two interceptions, five pass deflections and a sack.
He did so at the Mike (middle linebacker) spot, but has moved out to the Will (weak linebacker) spot during spring.
“I kind of like it better,” Ellis said. “I always played Mike so I didn't really know it until now but I like it. I'm a fan of the Will spot. More freedom. I can move a little bit more and I don't have to be so in the middle and between everybody. Out in space a little more, I like that.”
New linebacker coach Vernon Hargreaves likes what he is seeing out of the former Fayetteville standout this spring, including in Saturday’s scrimmage.
“He's great,” Hargreaves said. “He's doing well. He leads the defense on what to do. I thought he played extremely well on Saturday and I am looking forward to seeing him better than he was a year ago.
Hargreaves agrees with Razorback head coach Bret Bielema that Ellis is more a natural at his current position, which was manned last season by Spaight – the SEC’s leading tackler with 121 stops.
“I agree,” Hargreaves said. “The guy we had last year allowed him to play in there and now he has taken over that role in being the guy that kind of leads us and those types of things. So yeah I think he is pretty natural at that spot.”
Ellis is joined by the three freshmen – Khalia Hackett (6-2, 232), Randy Ramsey (6-4, 220) and Dwayne Eugene (6-1, 236) – as well as sophomore Josh Williams (6-1, 243) and junior walk on Josh Harris (5-10, 223).
They’ll be joined by incoming freshman middle linebacker Kendrick Jackson (6-2, 240) and possibly Dre Greenlaw (6-2, 220) – who could also play safety.
“I think you're trying to build depth everywhere,” Smith said. “You can never have enough, right? We feel good about what we have there.
“We know that we have an incoming corps of guys we feel are going to be good football players as well. I think by the time we get to our first football game next fall we'll be where we need to be at that position from a depth standpoint.”
Hackett has risen to the top of the depth chart at the Sam (strong linebacker) although he did see some time at the Mike on Tuesday.
He's a big physical linebacker,” Hargreaves said. “And he's fast, too. He can do a lot of things that most linebackers can't. Great, athletic linebacker.
“It's his first day at MIKE, so I don't know… where I'm going with it. It'll be fun to see where he goes. He's athletic and he can make plays.”
Ellis agrees with that sentiment.
“He's doing a good job,” Ellis said. “ He moved to Mike today. That was interesting to see. I'm excited to see where that goes. He's a great player. I'm glad he's next to me. That'll be fun to watch.”
Ellis knows there is plenty of work to do with the group and Tuesday’s workout was evidence of that.
“We have got a lot of things to learn and work on and today was a good reminder of that” Ellis said. “So we still have got a lot of things to work on. We are putting new things in and it's the middle of spring ball and it's a challenge and it's a grind and we have got to keep working hard.”
That being said, Ellis is happy to have Smith as a defensive coordinator for the second straight season.
“It's a lot quicker,” Ellis said. “First time I've had the same defensive coordinator, same defense. So just in the film room a lot more this year, getting with Coach Hargreaves. I just know it like (snap) that. It's way easier right now.”
He’s excited about this Saturday’s scrimmage being open to the fans.
“That'll be a fun time,” Ellis said. “I can't wait for that. It's a lot more exciting to have people watching you. We're have a few more plays in there, too, so that'll be fun.”
Brooks Ellis returns an interception against Mississippi State last season
Veteran LB Ellis Adjusts To New Role
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