Jason Ivester

Spring Countdown: Linebackers

With the Razorbacks closing in on spring football, HawgsDaily is breaking down who we believe Arkansas' starters are at all 22 positions. We'll reveal a portion of the starting lineup each day through March 28, when the Razorbacks begin practice.

Inside linebackerDre Greenlaw

Jr. | 6-0 | 226 | Fayetteville (Ark.)

2016 stats: 7 games (7 starts), 43 tackles (23 solo), 1.5 tackles for loss, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception (3 yards)

Why he'll start in 2017: With Brooks Ellis graduating, Greenlaw is the most experienced linebacker on the team. Before he broke his foot midway through last season, he was Arkansas' leading tackler. The Razorbacks' defense was also visibly worse without him on the field. Greenlaw has the leadership qualities to fill the void left by Ellis, as well.

Why this spring is important: That foot injury is definitely something to keep an eye on. Greenlaw came back and played in the Belk Bowl, but he might have pushed himself a little too much because he suffered a setback and had to have another surgery in January. That will keep him out of spring practice, but that doesn't make this spring any less important. He needs to get completely healed so he can be full-go by the fall. While on the sideline, Greenlaw can serve as another coach and help the young players - De'Jon Harris, Giovanni LaFrance, etc. - at the inside linebacker spot, which will hopefully develop more depth at the position.

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Inside linebackerDe'jon Harris

Soph. | 6-0 | 255 | Harvey, La./Marrero (La.) John Ehret

2016 stats: 12 games (0 starts), 37 tackles (18 solo), 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble

Why he'll start in 2017: Although he didn't start any games as a true freshman in 2016, Harris split reps with rising senior Dwayne Eugene at linebacker while Dre Greenlaw was out with an injury. He played well enough to earn a spot on the coaches' SEC All-Freshman team. The potential is clearly there - Alabama actually pursued him late in the recruiting process, but Harris stuck with the Razorbacks - and getting that early playing time should prove invaluable. The coaches praised him throughout the year, so it appears he is the frontrunner to start alongside Greenlaw this season.

Why this spring is important: While Harris is the frontrunner, he still needs to have a solid spring and show that he has improved from his freshman season. Eugene will be a tough competitor for the starting role because it's his last opportunity in college. It is also an important spring because of the switch to Paul Rhoads as defensive coordinator and to a 3-4 scheme. He and the rest of the linebackers (and rest of the defense) will have to learn the new system.

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Outside linebackerRandy Ramsey

R-Jr. | 6-4 | 228 | Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Dillard

2016 stats: 12 games (3 starts), 23 tackles (13 solo), 5.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 4 quarterback hurries, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery

Why he'll start in 2017: Talent has never been the issue with Ramsey. Since he arrived on campus, he has turned heads at practice with his ability as a linebacker. However, he has been in and out of head coach Bret Bielema's doghouse and was even removed from the program at one point. Ramsey seems to have figured it out now, though, and he got on the field as a designated pass rusher last season, playing a defensive end/outside linebacker combo position. In the 3-4 scheme, he is perfect for one of the outside linebacker spots, as its main role is as a pass rusher, almost like a stand-up defensive end. With more playing time, Ramsey could thrive for the Razorbacks.

Why this spring is important: Ramsey isn't the only good option for this position at Arkansas' disposal. Junior-college transfer Michael Taylor II, who sat out last season, will also compete for significant playing time. He actually mimicked pass rushers like Texas A&M's Myles Garrett on the scout team last year. So this spring will be a critical time to see who will win the starting position and how the reps will be divided. While it seems like he has it all figured out now, Ramsey also can't slip up in the classroom. He needs to take care of business on and off the field.

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Outside linebackerAlexy Jean-Baptiste

R-Fr. | 6-2 | 231 | Pompano Beach (Fla.) Coconut Creek

2016 stats: N/A (redshirted)

Why he'll start in 2017: To be honest, HawgsDaily is not sure who will start at the second outside linebacker spot. It's kind of a toss up between Jean-Baptiste and Dee Walker at this point, but both redshirted last season and no one has seen them in game action at the college level. We ultimately gave the nod to Jean-Baptiste because head coach Bret Bielema has said Walker could play inside or outside linebacker, while Jean-Baptiste is more of a true outside linebacker. He played cornerback in high school, so he has an ability to play well in space, which is required in this spot.

Why this spring is important: With the uncertainty surrounding this position, this spring will be critical in determining a true No. 1 option. Will it be Jean-Baptiste or Walker? Or will it be someone else entirely? These are questions that can only be answered after the Razorbacks strap on the pads and hit the practice field. Throw in the fact that Arkansas is switching to a 3-4 base defense and the spring becomes even more important.

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Here are links to our previous breakdowns, in case you missed any of them:

Quarterback/running back

Wide receivers

Tight ends

Interior offensive line

Offensive tackles

Safeties

Cornerbacks


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