Jason Ivester

State of the Hogs: Linebacker Room Fills After Signing Day

Linebacker depth was a problem for the Arkansas football team, but the meeting room for assistant coach Vernon Hargreaves will look much different next season.

The linebacker room at Arkansas just filled up.

Assistant coach Vernon Hargreaves has to be pleased with what is coming in his linebacker room. Randy Ramsey rejoins the team as a walkon this spring for what may be an immediate impact.

Then, the Hogs added four more in the official class. That's De'Jon Harris, Alexy Jean-Baptist, Giovanni LaFrance and Dee Walker. Harris and LaFrance are clearly inside linebackers. Harris and Jean-Baptist are probably outside linebackers. Ramsey should play outside.

Hargreaves is also pleased to welcome sophomore Kenderick Jackson back to the linebacker room. Jackson was moved to fullback with one week left in spring camp and was a valuable player there.

Hargreaves is also excited to add Grant Morgan and Ben Brausell as preferred walkons. That's a total of eight new linebackers in the room as compared to what Hargreaves had during the season. That's as big a jump as you could imagine.

Yes, I'd love to have added a cornerback, maybe two. But safety was a bigger need position than cornerback and the Hogs added two there in Micahh Smith and Deon Edwards.

I am tickled with the prospects for quarterback Cole Kelley and running back Devway Whaley. I also think the defensive linemen with Jonathan Marshall, McTelvin Agim, Austin Capps and Briston Guidry are amazing talents.

I think they would have signed another player or two if they were the right guys, but I like it when there is room for transfers and walkons as far as scholarships. Remember, Ricky Town was available in August. A scholarship had to be available to get him. So I like having room. Would you rather add a senior transfer who can make an immediate impact or a four star quarterback looking to transfer? Sure you would.

The linebacker depth was at a critical point last year when true freshman Dre Greenlaw had to be pressed into starting duty. He responded by earning Freshman All-America honors and finished second on the team in tackles. But he was not ready to play and struggled at times, too.

Harris is a fascinating prospect from Harvey, La. At 6-0, 240, he played both ways in football and ran track and played baseball. He was offensive player of the year on the New Orleans Advocate's All-Metro team for large schools. He rushed for 1,058 yards, caught passes for 374 yards and threw for 495 and also saw time as the punter and kicker.

That's not the best on Harris, it's his nickname. You have to love someone called Scootah.

Jean-Baptist is listed as 6-3, 220. That's up from the 190 when he made his visit during the season. Bret Bielema said, "He runs like a deer."

Bielema was clear on what his four new linebackers can do.

"All of them do two things, run and hit," he said. "Alexy was the first to jump in. He comes from Haitian descent. English is not spoken in the home. So that is something he overcame. I did coach his cousin at Wisconsin.

"Giovanni is a straight thumper in the middle. Dee is explosive with long arms. I'd think both Dee and Alexy are outside."

Assistant coach Rory Segrest recruited Walker.

"He's just an incredible athlete," Segrest said. "He played on the national championship high school team at Colquitt County and he was one of their best players. He can really fly, a track athlete. I can tell you that he loves to tinker with cars. He was in shop class when I talked to him (on signing day) and he'll be working on something Saturday."

Hargreaves said tape of Jean-Baptist showed the Ponpano Beach product all over the field.

"He played a lot of different spots," Hargreaves said. "You'd see him at safety, defensive end and linebacker. He's really versatile."

Bielema could hardly contain himself when talking about his linebackers. Remember, he was a linebacker coach in before becoming a head coach.

"You look at what we signed at linebacker," Bielema said, "then you add Ramsey to the group, I'm excited."

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