Kelly Impacting Defense With Energetic Play

FAYETTEVILLE -- Free safety Randy Kelly has plenty of work to do before he can be compared to former Hogs like Steve Atwater, Kenoy Kennedy and Ken Hamlin.

But defensive coordinator Dave Wommack was pretty happy with the sophomore's performance during Arkansas' 35-3 win against Ole Miss.

Kelly made a big splash in his second career start, bringing much-needed energy and intensity to a defense that looked lifeless through most of a four-game losing streak. The junior college transfer finished with five solo tackles, but also made an enormous impression with his emotional play.

"We needed that," Wommack said. "We've always had (former Arkansas linebacker/safety) Tony Bua, Kenny Hamlin, guys like that. I'm not saying he's a Tony Bua or a Ken Hamlin yet. But it's good to see that high energy.

"He was trying to fly around and knock people around and did."

That's why Kelly continued to work with the first-team defense Wednesday and will likely earn his second straight start when the Hogs travel to Mississippi State on Saturday. The sophomore, who has 16 tackles and three starts this season, will be counted on to help the Hogs slow an offense powered by tailback Jerious Norwood.

Kelly didn't disappoint when the coaching staff turned to him last week, bringing energy and enthusiasm to the Razorbacks after their heartbreaking loss to the Gamecocks. That was obvious even before the game, when Kelly could hardly control his excitement as he bounced around during pregame warmups.

"I just came in and played hard and the team just fed off the hits I made and it caused some emotion and some adrenaline to come to the team," Kelly said. "I was ready to get in, ready to play, ready to show everybody what I had.

"It feels real good just knowing that they trust me out there on the field."

Wommack said the Hogs wanted to see that earlier this season, but the junior college transfer started in a hole and lagged behind mentally. Kelly missed most of Arkansas' two-a-day practices while he waited to become academically eligible and was well behind when he arrived on campus.

He played well in a backup role during Arkansas' 45-30 loss at Florida Oct. 2 and was named the starter at free safety in place of Vickiel Vaughn. But Kelly's first start was littered with mental mistakes during the Hogs' 38-20 loss at Auburn on Oct. 16.

Wommack said Kelly earned a second chance against Ole Miss and didn't commit any mental errors in place of junior Lerinezo Robinson. Position coach Bobby Allen said Kelly missed two tackles, but his fiery play "brought a level of excitement that we knew, from the first time we met him, he has."

Kelly and Robinson, who leads the team with 54 tackles, each played about 30 snaps against the Rebels. Allen said the rotation will stay the same, but Wommack said the Razorbacks are depending on another energetic performance from Kelly.

"Randy brought some real emotion, some real physical play and intensity out there that we needed," Wommack said. "He went out there and executed and played well. I think he got confidence from it and I know we've got confidence in him.

"Now the question is, can we be consistent? Can you do that again?"

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