Jason Ivester

New Arkansas Razorbacks assistant coaches have questions to answer this spring

Arkansas has almost an entirely new defensive coaching staff. It will be tasked with answering several questions this spring.

Arkansas overhauled its defensive staff during the offseason.

Defensive coordinator Robb Smith was let go and defensive backs coach Paul Rhoads was promoted into the position. Chad Walker was brought in to replace Smith and coach outside linebackers. Defensive line coach Rory Segrest was fired and replaced by John Scott Jr.

That group will be tasked with turning around one of the worst defenses in school history in 2017, which means there are several questions that need to be answered this spring.

Here is a look at a few of the things the new coaches need to start sorting out when spring practice starts up next week:

Paul Rhoads

-Is Rhoads comfortable with the returning starters in the secondary or will the door remain open for newcomers - such as Montaric Brown and Chevin Calloway - to crack into the rotation?

Safeties Josh Liddell, Santos Ramirez and De'Andre Coley and cornerbacks Ryan Pulley and Henre' Toliver are back and appear to the be the frontrunners for starting positions in the secondary. However, defensive backs made up one-fourth of the Razorbacks' 2017 signing class, including four-star prospects Brown and Calloway. Rhoads must decide how much to use the newcomers and that will likely depend on how the returning players look this spring.

-Where will Kevin Richardson II play when Arkansas isn't in the nickel package?

Head coach Bret Bielema said earlier this month that Richardson is capable of playing cornerback - the position he started in the 2016 season-opener before suffering his injury - and safety, something he hasn't seen much during his coaching career. Richardson will likely be Arkansas' nickel back when the Razorbacks use their five-defensive back sets, but it will be interesting to see if he can work his way into the rotation at corner or safety, as well.

-In his first year as defensive coordinator, how big of an impact can Rhoads make on the defense?

When Robb Smith became the defensive coordinator in 2013, the Razorbacks' defense vaulted into the top 10 nationally. Is Rhoads capable of such a quick turnaround? And will he be able to sustain it?

John Scott Jr.

-Who is going to start on the defensive line, with so many starters gone from last year?

Pretty much everyone on Arkansas' defensive line in 2016 is no longer with the program - most were seniors and Tevin Beanum decided to retire. That leaves a whole bunch of starting positions open. One will likely be filled by McTelvin Agim, a former five-star recruit who started several games last year, but the other spots are up for grabs.

-Which players will be defensive ends and which will be nose tackles?

The switch to a 3-4 base defense means we don't really know which positions defensive linemen will play in 2017. Agim was a defensive tackle in the 4-3 last year, but will likely move back out to defensive end. A lot of the younger players could play inside or outside. Getting them in pads and seeing how they look in live action will help determine who plays defensive end and who plays nose tackle.

-Will Scott's expertise in the 3-4 scheme help the transition?

Among Arkansas' coaches, Scott is believed to have the most experience in the 3-4 system. In fact, his history in the 3-4 was prominently mentioned in the press release announcing his hire and Scott said during his introductory press conference that about half of his coaching career was spent in the 3-4.

Chad Walker

-Which player will be the No. 1 pass-rushing outside linebacker: Randy Ramsey or Michael Taylor II? Or will someone else emerge?

Both of these guys are a good fit for the pass-rushing outside linebacker in the 3-4. Ramsey was used in limited action last season, but still managed to make 2.5 sacks. Taylor was not eligible to play last season, but had a huge role on the scout team, mimicking guys like Texas A&M's Myles Garrett. It's a good problem to have, but Walker must decide who will be the starter and how to divide the reps. There's also the possibility that someone else - maybe Karl Roesler - emerges and makes it a three-man race.

-Which redshirt freshman will earn the starting job at the outside linebacker spot? Or will someone else emerge?

A pair of 2016 signees seem to be the frontrunners for the starting job opposite Ramsey/Taylor. Alexy Jean-Baptiste and Dee Walker have been praised by Bielema, but both redshirted last season and have no game experience. Similar to the question above, there's also a chance someone else could emerge, but right now it looks like it's between Jean-Baptiste and Walker.

-How will Walker handle his first FBS assistant coaching job?

When Walker was hired, the main criticism/concern among fans was the fact that he has never been a full-time assistant coach at the FBS level. He has worked under Nick Saban and Bob Stoops, but not as a position coach, and has been a defensive coordinator before, but at lower divisions. This is his first big-time job. How will he handle it?


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