Hodge Ready to Start

Arkansas line coach Rory Segrest thinks competition will stoke the fires when the defensive front takes the field against UTEP.

Competition makes everyone better and that's still what's happening with the Arkansas defensive line as the opener with Texas-El Paso approaches. Assistant coach Rory Segrest promises lots of action for a cast of possibly 11 and knows that he'll soon have some tape to grade.

"I think what's going on right now in every practice is that we have guys who want to be starters, be at the front of the line," Segrest said after Wednesday's practice, the last major work ahead of the 2:30 p.m. Saturday game with UTEP.

"So we compare them to each other with all that they do, but we all know that things get faster when it's game day. Everyone plays faster and it all just happens quicker. So you want to see them in a game and they know they are going to be measured. It's what is so great about competition."

There will be a few new starters, including nose tackle DeMarcus Hodge. There was excitement in the voice of Hodge in Wednesday's interview, although the massive senior admitted to some fatigue. Defensive coordinator Robb Smith pushed everyone on that side of the ball to fly to ball carriers.

"I may have dropped a few pounds out there tonight," Hodge said. "We really stressed Smart Swarm on defense today. We did pursuit drills and ran back to the line of scrimmage to do it again. I don't know how many pounds I might have lost today but I bet it was like three, four five."

Hodge has been dropping pounds since last fall. He played at close to 350 last year, sometimes not handling fatigue that well. He is listed at 340 now, but said that's a misprint.

"No, I'm probably going to play at 327," he said. "I'm lighter than that right now, as you talk to me. I have dropped some the last few days. I knew when we were in the meeting room and Coach Smith talked about the point of emphasis being the Smart Swarm that we were going to be doing a lot of running.

"I don't mind, though. I've learned that when I'm on the field, just do as much running as I can. It's helped me so much. I'm quicker and faster and I don't worry about the running any more. It's fine with me. I know I'm going to be able to get to the football and be in on more plays. That's been great this August. I feel so much different."

Segrest knows everyone will have butterflies at the opening kickoff, but doesn't worry about Hodge.

"Maybe he hasn't started, but he's sure got experience," Segrest said. "I think he's pretty level headed. He's worked really hard and he's prepared to play. I don't see that as a problem for him because of how much he's played. I feel like his technique is solid and that will carry him past the first few butterflies."

And, it's not going to be long stretches for any starters.

"I'd say the starters will get more snaps, but maybe not a lot more snaps," Segrest said. "We really do plan to use 11 guys at those four spots. I think we'll do a good job of keeping those guys fresh. And, we want to get them on tape and see what happens in a game."

UTEP has some wrinkles for the Hogs, but they aren't anything different from what Segrest's front sees in practice against the UA offensive line. The Miners use some sets with as many as seven or eight offensive linemen, something that Arkansas also does on offense.

"It's a matter of just recognizing their substitutions," Segrest said. "We see that from our offense and as long as we see it, we can adjust with our front. We've worked on it heavily."

Hodge said most of what UTEP does is familiar.

"It's all about what we do every day, gap control and technique," Hodge said. "If we do what we are coached to do, it's nothing much different than going against our own offense. It's very similar."

There's been a reshuffling in the linebacker starters in the last two weeks. Two of the main players were in the interview room Wednesday. Josh Williams and Khalia Hackett have switched spots, with Williams stepping in at middle linebacker. But Hackett figures in the plans this week, too, since strongside is a position of need against UTEP.

"It's a 4-3 type of game," Hackett said. "I know it's going to be week to week on my role. I'm good with that. When they told me, I just said, 'Let's go go go.' I can see things better on the outside anyway."

Williams spent last year as the backup to Brooks Ellis in the middle. So it wasn't much of a transition.

"Last year I learned a lot from Brooks Ellis because I was behind him in the middle," Williams said. "I learned a lot from him when I was the second Mike. I channeled everything he did and it's made me a better player.

"When they moved me outside it was nothing new. That's what I always played in high school.  I didn't play middle linebacker until my freshman year at juco."

Williams said there was no preference of positions, middle linebacker or strongside.

"Doesn't matter, I am just trying to get on the field," he said.

Hackett said, "It was fine, just got to react and play." And, that seems to be what fits him better about being outside again.

"Yes, most definitely. Love playing in space. Love being able to see things," Hackett said. "The more I can see better out there, I'm able to react faster to things. Love that I'm back at the Sam position.
"It was more like when I was at middle linebacker, I was tryiing to figure out where I fit at, more likely. Instead of worrying about the ball I was worried about my assignment instead of tracking the ball. Being at linebacker, linebackers usually supposed to make the tackles on the ball wherever it's at. That's why I had a little stripe on my helmet, it helped me with my eyes tracking the ball. I'm still, they still got me at Mike at second place and in nickel and stuff, too, so it's still a work in progress. I'm still learning the ins and outs of Mike."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories