Tuesday's Grid Update, 4/21

Brooks Ellis was sick so Dwayne Eugene got a quick bump up to the first unit at weakside linebacker. It turned out perfect in the eyes of linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves.

Brooks Ellis didn't practice Tuesday because of a fever, so things got warm for Dwayne Eugene at weakside linebacker. The tests came back positive.

That's the way linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves saw the results even before watching the tape of Tuesday's two-hour workout on the outside practice fields, the 13th of the spring for the Arkansas football team.

"We found out just before practice that Brooks couldn't go," Hargreaves said. "So there was no real chance to do anything but tell Dwayne Eugene that he was in with the ones. That's a great simulation like when someone goes down in a game, you just turn and put the next guy in.

"The great thing, Dwayne was so excited he couldn't hardly control himself in the meeting. He was ready.

"I have not seen the tape yet so I'm not completely sure how he did, but I thought it was pretty good from what I saw. I thought he was prepared and was ready to go with the ones.

"Really, it was a perfect opportunity. Nobody knew before we came to meetings today that Brooks couldn't practice. You walk in and, BOOM! Dwayne is up. I really liked his reaction to the opportunity to roll with the ones. It was very good."

Defensive coordinator Robb Smith continues to like what he sees in all areas of his unit. He was displeased with a segment of practice Saturday morning when there was some confusion with formations in a red zone segment. He went off on the linebackers in that drill and for good reason. It reminded him of a nightmare last season.

"We couldn't set the front," he said. "It was in a critical zone and just can't happen. We were confused. There comes a point, you just line up. They can all play both sides. That was my point. Right can become left. Left can become right. Weak can become strong. Just line up and play.

"We made the exact same error last year against Albama. It was a play on the goal line that produced the winning play. It was a situation where it cost us a football game. It was a teaching point. I wanted to make that point to them. We didn't make that error often last year and I wanted to make sure we covered that. It was the same formation, two tights. We understand it pretty well now."

Smith said the rotation at linebacker has been good. There's been some shuffling of personnel to make sure there is versatility. Ellis has been the bell cow of the defense at weakside linebacker with Khalia Hackett working with the ones at middle linebacker. Josh Harris has also gotten some work in the middle, along with Josh Williams. Williams has gotten a lot of work at strongside linebacker, too.

There has been no denying that coaches have been pleased with Harris, the walk-on from Watson Chapel. He has made plays in scrimmages in the run game and made interceptions in two of the last three practices.

"Number one, he did everything we asked of him last fall," Smith said. "So he knows the position. Two, he's got great instincts. He studies and plays hard. He's shown that he can make plays. He gives us a great foundation at middle linebacker.

"What it gives you is confidence that you can move Khalia and Josh (Williams) to other spots when we get personnel matchups on the outside that they fit. We have a broad spectrum of players and styles and Josh (Harris) makes us more flexible in our personnel."

Hargreaves was asked about the lack of height for Josh Harris. He's listed at just 5-10, but that might stretch his height a hair.

"He's vertically challenged," Hargreaves said. "But I've had some very good players his size before. If you can play, you can play. We think he can play. He's been good this spring.

"I like his attention to detail. I think our group is all very attentive. It's a fun bunch to coach."

Bunch is the right word for what the Hogs have in the defensive line.

"I'd think that's an accurate description," said Rory Segrest, the defensive line coach. "We have some depth. We have a good number of players and very good competition at all our spots. We've been able to move some guys around, see who can play what. You look at our nose tackles, Bijohn Jackson and DeMarcus Hodge, to start with and see the competition. Both of those are really coming on."

It continues at the other three spots up front, including several players with versatility to play end and tackle.

"Jeremiah Ledbetter has come on in the last few practices," Segrest said. "He's had good workouts. He can play tackle or he can play end."

The Hogs are winding down ahead of Saturday's Red-White game, set for 1 p.m. Smith is excited.

"It's a chance to see what our guys can do in a game setting," he said. "We want to go through a simulation of what it's like on Friday night, ahead of a game. It's a chance to show them a routine that they'll see in the fall. We want to see how they react to playing in front of a crowd. I know our players are excited and so am I."

There's some excitement this week even before the game. The Hogs are installing some Virtual Reality software, the STIMVR system that was developed at Stanford University. The defense worked with the VR system for 21 plays at the end of what was the only closed segment of practice Tuesday.

Smith couldn't hardly contain his enthusiasm. He sees it as an incredible teaching tool. He's researched and drooled over the technology.

"I'm excited," he said. "We were pleased with what we got done this afternoon and I can't wait to come back tonight and look at it again. And, for the morning, we should have it ready for players to look at through the goggles.

"We went through a 21-play script today against formations and plays. It should give our linebackers and secondary the opportunity to see Virtual Reality in a 360 degree look. I know it's going to be amazing for a teaching tool, development over the summer. It's like getting rep after rep in practice. It's a chance for our freshmen to see what they'll see in practice in the fall. There are lots of applications.

"I put the goggles on earlier this week. It's amazing. I got to see things the way our players see it. What a teaching tool. I think the communication tools will be huge. We'll make cutups and eventually build a great simulator. It's like a flight simulator for a pilot. I see a broad spectrum of uses for it and we have to take advantage of it. We are working hard to utilize it in a big way."

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