Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith has a quiet confidence about himself when he meets with the media this season and it seems to be based on one thing.
That would be how much he likes what he sees from his holdovers and his newcomers heading into the season-opener Sept. 5 against visiting UTEP.
“Last year at this time, we'd never really been in the battle together so to speak as a staff and as a unit,” Smith said Thursday. “I think we kind of know what to expect from each other. I think the recall that we've had in our system, now that they've heard it for two springs, now two fall camps, we're well ahead of where we were at this time last year.
“And that's really been a positive for us, because now we can go back and really spend a lot of time on the details and the things that can make a big, big difference in football games, and I think our guys have strived to do that. They've been very detail oriented in this camp and we need for that to continue throughout the fall.”
Smith, whose Razorbacks were a Top 10 group nationally last season in his first year as the Arkansas coordinator, notes that he has a trust factor working with his defenders.
“You know, I think like Coach B says, you earn it,” Smith said. “You earn it every day whether you're a player or a coach. You get the cumulative rewards or the negatives of your past performances.
“But by the same token you've got to go out and earn it every day. I do think the guys believe in what we're doing. I know we certainly have belief in the guys we're going to put on the football field. As long as we can keep moving forward in that direction we can do some good things.”
Smith will infuse at least four true freshmen into the mix with defensive lineman Hjalte Froholdt, linebacker Dre Greenlaw, cornerback Ryan Pulley and safety Willie Sykes having all played their way into significant roles during preseason camp.
“I think the biggest thing is they've been able to pick up on the system and have an understanding of what we're trying to accomplish defensively,” Smith said. “Hjalte is a guy that we've talked about before, just the physical attributes that he brings to the game. He helps us dictate daylight in the run game. He's quick enough that we can establish some pass rush with him as well.
“Dre Greenlaw, as I think you guys have seen in the scrimmages, he's really flashed as a guy that can make plays and be productive at that will linebacker spot. Which is going to give us some great depth there and much needed to speak of that.
“Then the two guys in the back end, just understanding where their eyes need to be. Both of those guys are excellent communicators, and that's really kind of put them in a position to be a part of things and hopefully play valuable snaps for us.”
Those two young secondary guys join a mix that Smith feels really good about after these last few weeks of practice.
“Right now Henre’ Toliver has really developed and done a nice job as that slot corner for us. That allows us to leave D.J. (Dean) on a side and Jared Collins on a side. I think we've got some depth there.
“We've got Ryan Pulley that's doing some good things. Cornelius Floyd, when healthy, has been able … so we're bolstering our depth on the outside. Then a guy like Kevin Richardson, who is just kind of the guy that knows the ins and outs of our defense. I'm really impressed with him. He gives us flexibility. He can jump in and play that slot corner, the nickel, or play on the outside or even at the safety spot.”
Starting sophomore free safety Josh Liddell has become the leader of the secondary.
“Josh is one of those guys that I think has a great grasp of what we want to do on the defensive side of the ball,” Smith said. “He's a great communicator our there. He's a guy I think gains confidence every day.
“His range on the back end, especially as a deep-half player, it kind of sneaks up on you. You go, wow, he's able to make that play. He's able to realize that he can make that play.
“He's going to be the quarterback of our defense back there, especially in terms of setting our coverages. He's had a really good camp, and now it's kind of fun to watch him start to dig in on our opponent to start to study them and he's a guy we feel really comfortable with making the calls back there for us.”
Smith is pleased with what he has seen from junior linebacker Brooks Ellis.
“The only thing wrong with Brooks Ellis is we don't have two of him. I think he's a guy that goes out and plays the right way,” Smith said. “He’s smart, he understands, he communicates. And I think as he gets a feel for things and we get to play some teams other than ourself, I think the confidence level will increase each week as he prepares and he gets positive action the football field.
“…I like where Brooks is right now. I like his state of mind. I think he really embraces what we're trying to accomplish on defense. He's a guy that's been voted captain by his peers. We're really excited to see what he's going to do this year, and I think he's excited about it, too.”
Smith is sporting a beard and says he may keep it, but only if his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates come through for him.
“That's a great question,” Smith said. “(It’s) 1-0 mentality, I'm going to take it day by day. If the Pirates go and win the World Series I'll keep the beard. If they lose it, it'll probably be gone.”