It’s easy to see that Deatrich Wise is one of the best players on the defense. That’s not good enough for the senior defensive end.
“I want to be the best player on the field,” he said.
There was emphasis in his voice on “the” and there was some pride in that word. He’s the clear top player as Arkansas heads into the 2016 season looking to improve on defense against one of the toughest schedules in college football. He’s the kind of player who gives the Hogs a chance to compete in the SEC West.
Wise starts the summer on all of the major draft boards, a probable first-round pick next spring. He’s listed anywhere from 16th to 24th on the three early projections from media draft gurus. The 6-6, 280-pounder gave the Arkansas offensive line fits in the spring. He’ll do the same in the fall.
Defensive coordinator Robb Smith saw Wise begin to make plays in the second half of the season, then hit another gear in the spring when he was the bell cow of that unit.
“Deatrich just had a great presence in the spring,” Smith said. “And, that was the way he played down the stretch last year. When I talk to coaches around our league, they say, ‘That 48 was really something late in the year.’ People noticed what he did.
“Deatrich played consistently well in the spring. Our players admire him. They are encouraged by his play and we sure are as coaches.
“The biggest thing that jumped out at us is that he just matured. He’as always naturally been a fun loving guy and he still is. But he knows more how to pick his spots. I think he’s just evolved and developed. He’s always been a long, athletic guy, but he’s become so much stronger.
“He’s a naturally gifted pass rusher because of his length, the way he bends. He has all the right ingredients.”
Junior defensive end Karl Roesler confirms the level of Wise’s play has risen to that of the best player on the field.
“I think he is that guy,” Roesler said. “What I see is a guy who may be the strongest on the team and he has great length. He uses that length to get on you and then he just tosses you aside.”
There isn’t a lot of tossing in Wise’s daily matchup, offensive right tackle Dan Skipper. It’s iron sharpening iron. Wise said there are plays where one wins or the other does.
“Everything he does to me, everything I do to him, that’s building each other up,” Wise said. “That’s how you make a team. That’s how you get better.”
Wise has always been a terrific pass rusher, but he’s more than that now. He’s the total package.
“I’ve tried to get the fine points down for me,” Wise said. “I know everyone thinks I’m pretty good as a pass rusher, but I’m trying to become just as good against the run. You want to be that complete player. That’s been my goal this spring, be the whole package.
“I have watched myself on video. I see the small things that I can improve. I did do some of that in the second half of last season. It’s focus on details. That’s how you get better. I have corrected some things I was doing wrong and that pays off. You are always trying to get better and that’s the goal in the scrimmage.”
The defensive front might be closer to that this spring with some subtle position switches inside. Taiwan Johnson has moved from weakside tackle to nose tackle. Jeremiah Ledbetter has moved inside to weakside tackle from end. It’s an attempt to create the same mismatches at tackle that were solid for the Hogs two years ago with Darius Philon.
“Led, he’s like Philon,” Wise said. “It’s quickness and ability. I think you see him do some of the same things Philon could do as far as strength, too.”
Wise has stepped forward as a defensive leader. He said it was in that role that he took McTelvin “Sosa” Agim aside after a spring practice scuffle with Skipper.
“I just told him that something like that can’t happen in a game,” Wise said. “He’s a young guy and stuff happens in the heat of the moment. Those things happen. I just said don’t do it in a game.”
The leadership role has come about naturally. He said it’s just age.
“My time,” he said. “It’s just my time. I do some of the things I saw Trey Flowers do when I was younger. You know when it’s time.”
Roesler said mostly it’s just younger players following a veteran.
“He doesn’t need to yell at us,” Roesler said. “It’s not telling us, but showing us. That’s how he does it, by example. I think there might be a time or two where he didn’t see something he liked and let someone know. But mostly it’s just an older player doing it right.
“Deatrich is impressive. He is the best guy out there. He was a great player for us this spring.”
Turns out he’s great off the field, too. But, he may be a little on the soft side, according to girl friend Chanell Clark-Bibbs, former captain for the Arkansas volleyball squad.
“Very romantic, a softie,” Chanell said while waiting on Deatrich during the Hawgs Illustrated cover shoot in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
There was confirmation with a Valentine Day’s story from last winter. Chanell said Deatrich was at her apartment door to cook breakfast to start the day, then invited her to a special setting at his apartment for a dinner, also cooked by Deatrich.
“He texted me in the morning to say he was outside ready to cook breakfast, then he knocked on the door,” Chanell said. “He had roses.”
The dinner that night was a little different. Deatrich turned the living room into a restaurant table. He hung drapes to form a private room.
“There were lights hanging from the ceiling,” Chanell said. “Deatrich can really cook. He got that from his father, a very good cook. The main course was fish, with broccoli and a side of rice. There was sparkling grape juice. You know, Deatrich doesn’t drink (alcohol). It was a fantastic meal.”
Wise was beaming nearby as Chanell explained the night.
“I don’t know how to describe what I made in the living room, maybe like a fort,” he said. “I used chairs and hung blankets and drapes to set it up.”
There were no other details on the Valentine’s evening, but one can only guess there was dancing involved. Wise is quite the dancer.
Everyone has seen his dances after sacks, including his moves after taking down Johnny Manziel at Reynolds Razorback Stadium three years ago. His latest moves are on YouTube, or can be found on the ArkansasRazorbacks.com twitter feed, with a #Running Man Challenge.
“He is a dancer,” Chanell said, “and he really did a nice job with the idea on his take of the Running Man Challenge.”
That video begins by Richard Smith, academic specialist in the athletic department, introducing Wise in a mock graduation ceremony. After Wise is given his sash, a dance breaks out and other graduating athletes pop out behind a curtain to join the dance.
“That was Deatrich’s idea,” Chanell said. “And, he pulled it off very well.”
Wise knows to curtail the dance moves on the field, but sometimes just can’t help himself.
“I’ve danced after sacks,” he said. “I’m not supposed to. It has to be subtle. It can’t be obvious or there will be a penalty. I will try to do a few things, but mostly it needs to be a celebration with a teammate. If you do it that way, you can get by without (a penalty).”