There is no one better to evaluate the quarterback than the middle linebacker. He's involved in the intense cat-and-mouse game that defines what high level football is all about.
The eyes of the quarterback and the middle linebacker meet on every play. One tries to influence the other. It's a battle of wits, wills and often provides the difference between what is a win or a loss for either side on almost every play.
Yes, the quarterback is the most important player on offense. He is the field general. Most understand.
Many do not understand that the middle linebacker can be the same thing on defense. He calls the signals, sets the front and direct traffic. He has an outstanding chance to become the leading tackler, if he's a good player.
There is little doubt that Brooks Ellis is a good player. He sometimes is a great player. He's going to be a four-year starter next fall. The Fayetteville senior has been good since the moment he stepped on the field at Arkansas.
Few doubt the value of Ellis. He was tried last year at weakside linebacker, one of the key playmaking spots in the defense of coordinator Robb Smith. But there wasn't anyone who could step up at middle linebacker. Eventually, Dre Greenlaw could play the weakside better than anyone else could play the middle, with Ellis not there.
I love to visit with Ellis. I spent almost all of my time with him after Thursday's practice despite the fact there were four more defensive stalwarts in the interview room. I figured I could learn more from Ellis than anyone.
First, I respect him that much. He's smart, likely to become a doctor after he finishes his playing career. I also knew that if there was anyone equipped to evaluate the play of Austin Allen at quarterback, it would be Ellis.
There was more to talk to Ellis about, like the development of Greenlaw at weakside linebacker. Ellis said there had been some monumental gains by Greenlaw, also a Fayetteville product, in the offseason.
“He's still growing and learning,” Ellis said. “But he knows so much more than last year. And, with the time I've spent with him, it now feels like he's been here three years.
“I think you'd have to still call Dre a young buck and he's still under my leash. But he's getting better. I think you'll see him be a much better player this spring.”
Then it time to visit about yet another Fayetteville product, Ellis' great friend Austin Allen. The two have been close since grade school. There was a time that Ellis competed against Allen as a quarterback. Allen was running the ninth grade offense as an eighth grader, so that meant Ellis played quarterback in the eighth grade games. It was soon clear that he was going to be a linebacker.
“Austin is doing great,” Ellis said. “Really, he's been doing great for quite a long time for us. He practiced really well last fall.
“I think he took the attitude last fall that he was a starter and began to practice as if he was going to play. I could see that.
“Then, he began to take everything to the max. He did everything as far as tape study to the max. He got himself ready to play. I could sense he was ready to play.
“I see him leading the guys on offense. He's taken that role. He'll get mad at guys and really get on them.
“I know there is a chill about Austin. He looks relaxed in quite a bit of what he does. That's the chill I'm talking about. But he's a competitor. He is going to fight to win.”
Ellis knows the Allen brothers, Austin and Brandon. He's been hanging out with them for a long time. He is just as confident that Austin will lead the Hogs to victory as he was with Brandon.
“We are in good shape,” Ellis said. “He's really playing well.”
There was the look in the eyes of Brooks Ellis that quarterback is not something he's worried about. And, he's feeling good about some new found depth at linebacker with Randy Ramsey and Kendrick Jackson in his meeting room, and the development of Greenlaw.
There is a good feeling about the back end of the defense with the addition of Paul Rhoads as secondary coach.
“He's doing great with our defensive backs,” Ellis said. “All of our Dbs are excited.
“We've added a coach with a lot of experience to our defense. I think we all see that. He's given the secondary some confidence.”
Experience is what Brooks Ellis brings to the table. When he feels good, then I feel a lot better about the Arkansas defense.