FAYETTEVILLE – The carousel that is Arkansas' front seven continues to spin into week four of spring practice.
Michael Taylor is the latest player to change positions, moving from outside linebacker to defensive end. It is likely the domino effect of Karl Roesler making the opposite switch: defensive end to outside linebacker.
Outside linebackers coach Chad Walker said it reminds him of his time in the NFL, when players would be signed and have to play in games almost immediately. Luckily in the spring, though, coaches can experiment because games are still four months away.
“As you get going, you find out what your guys can do,” Walker said. “We have a profile going in and then you figure out what these guys can do and you try to adapt to it.”
Still a relatively new coach on the staff, Walker said he also likes the fluidity of his group because it allows him to get to know more players on the team.
The Roesler move bumped Taylor to second-team Hog outside linebacker – the hybrid linebacker/defensive end – during Saturday’s scrimmage and allowed Armon Watts to jump to first-team defensive end.
It’s unclear where Taylor is on the depth chart in his new position because practices aren’t open to the media.
Other position changes within the front seven this spring include nose tackle Bijhon Jackson getting some work at defensive end, Dwayne Eugene going from inside to outside linebacker and Dee Walker going from outside to inside linebacker.
Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads stayed in the front seven when asked if any particular players progressed from the first to the second scrimmage more than others.
While he initially gave the stereotypical “everybody elevated their game” response, he eventually singled out Jackson and Randy Ramsey.
“Those are two guys without a ton of snaps that I think have really shown up in the last two weeks,” Rhoads said.
Jackson is a senior from El Dorado and has been splitting first-team reps at nose tackle with sophomore Austin Capps.
Ramsey is a junior from Florida and is seemingly flourishing as the starting Razor outside linebacker, the hybrid linebacker/defensive back. He has also caught the eye of Walker, his position coach.
“He does a really nice job of standing up, whether it’s playing in space or breaking on the ball, and he can rush the passer,” Walker said. “He adds that element. He can do it all.”
Following Saturday’s scrimmage, head coach Bret Bielema said running back Rawleigh Williams “tweaked his ankle” on his final run of the day.
Five days later, it doesn’t seem to be an issue. Running backs coach Reggie Mitchell said Williams hasn’t been limited at all.
“He went in and got treatment Sunday,” Mitchell said. “Monday we didn’t have anything. Tuesday we had a light practice… Today was a hard day for us with a 24-period practice and he went through it without a hitch.”
Despite the injury scare, Mitchell said he can already tell a difference in Williams, who didn’t get full-contact reps until Arkansas’ season-opener against Louisiana Tech.
The junior from Dallas was recovering from a broken neck injury, but still led the SEC in rushing yards during the regular season.
“He’s playing at a really high level right now,” Mitchell said. “I have been really impressed with what he’s done, so being able to go through spring practice and get tackled has helped him.”
Senior Jared Cornelius, the most experienced receiver on Arkansas’ roster, is still limited because of a minor hamstring injury suffered last week.
He did some light jogging at the beginning of Thursday’s practice, but has spent most of his time with the medical staff.
“We’re going to be smart about it,” wide receivers coach Michael Smith said. “We don’t want to set him back any further that would take him into his offseason conditioning.”
Even without the injury, Cornelius would probably start to see his full-contact reps start to decrease soon anyways because of Bielema’s policy of limiting rising seniors with NFL futures.
His absence will allow the younger players to catch more passes from quarterback Austin Allen and build a rapport with him, something Allen and Cornelius already have.
“For LaMichael (Pettway) to develop that, or Deon (Stewart) or the rest of the guys, Brandon (Martin) and Jonathan (Nance) and Jordan (Jones), to get that with him and get on the same page with Austin is going to be big for us,” Smith said.
One of those players will not get that chance, though, as Jonathan Nance went down with an injury during practice.
“He just bruised his knee real bad,” Smith said. “So, again, we’re just letting that get taken care of and when he’s ready to go we’re going to put him back out there.”