Defense Done Shuffling

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring spent the past six months shifting, switching and testing players at different positions.

Some, like junior Anthony Brown came from the offense (wide receiver to defensive end). Others, like Matterral Richardson, moved from one starting position to another (cornerback to free safety). A few more, like senior Clarke Moore, moved so much it was hard to keep up (linebacker to defensive end to linebacker).

But Herring said he was finally done shuffling personnel as Arkansas released its depth chart Friday for next Saturday's season opener against Missouri State.

"I think everybody knows their role now," Herring said. "So now we're focused. Here we go. Now, let's go get it on and get better. I think it's taken awhile, but there's no timetable. There's no set way. We're just trying to get it right.

"We've run out of time now. I don't know if there's any moves left except for me."

The depth chart revealed that Arkansas has nine of its 11 defensive starters in place. The only starting positions that remain open are at defensive tackle, where Herring has been disappointed in Marcus Harrison and Fred Bledsoe.

The two, who were bumped from first-team defense to third-team Thursday, are in a six-way battle for two starting jobs with Keith Jackson, Jeremy Harrell, Cord Gray and Ernest Mitchell. Herring said the Hogs would like to see Harrison and Bledsoe lock down the starting jobs, but won't hand out starting jobs by default.

Besides tackle, defensive ends Brown and Desmond Sims; linebackers Pierre Brown, Weston Dacus and Sam Olajubutu; cornerbacks Darius Vinnett and Michael Coe; and safeties Richardson and Vickiel Vaughn have secured starting spots, most likely.

"Here's the thing about coach Herring," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "It can change tonight. It can change tomorrow. Anytime you go in that dressing room, you better be going full speed. I think our players are starting to get a feel for that."

On offense, sophomore Robert Johnson was named the starting quarterback, as expected, while freshmen Alex Mortensen and Cole Barthel are listed as second- and third-string, respectively. Johnson missed practice time last week because of a groin injury, but has been participating in workouts all week.

Behind him, sophomore Peyton Hillis edged out senior De'Arrius Howard for the starting spot at tailback. Both were named co-starters at the end the spring, but Hillis has emerged this preseason while Howard has been slowed by a groin injury.

"He'll go out there first," Nutt said. "Again, it depends on, there's a couple of formations where you could have De'Arrius Howard out there and Peyton at the same time. Or Dedrick Poole and Peyton. We still have a little flexibility. But he gets the nod right now. I think De'Arrius missing that week hurt him a little bit. But he's fighting back strong, doing good. We're going to need all of them."

Said Hillis: "That's nice (being named starter). But you really have to come out here every week and work harder. You have a lot of guys behind you."

Sophomore Mason Templeton and redshirt freshman Marc Winston are battling for a starting job without injured tight ends Jared Hicks (ankle) and Wes Murphy (ankle).

Offensive line coach Mike Markuson listed Jonathan Luigs and Tyler Morgan as co-starters at right guard in place of injured senior Zac Tubbs. Sophomores Robert Felton and Nate Garner are battling for the starting spot at right tackle.

Felton was demoted to second team this week after being late for a team meeting and might not start the opener. Morgan, who worked with the first-team in Tubbs' place the past two weeks, has been challenged by Luigs.

"If we started (Friday), it would be Luigs," Nutt said. "But let's see how it goes."

Other offensive starting spots were filled by split end Marcus Monk, flanker Cedric Washington, left tackle Tony Ugoh, left guard Stephen Parker, center Kyle Roper and fullback Brandon Kennedy. Senior Dedrick Poole is on the depth chart as an H-back and will start if the Razorbacks don't open the game with a fullback.

Nutt said Poole, Howard, Hillis and true freshmen Darren McFadden and Felix Jones will all get carries this season.

"This is a good problem," Nutt said. "I know a lot of coaches would really love to have that type of problem when you have depth.

"We've got a lot of different roles with these guys. Their attitudes have been good. That's the key. It's easy to get selfish in the world we live in. I've been proud of them. Very unselfish. That's how you win."

Herring is hoping all his shuffling will give the Razorbacks depth at other positions like linebacker and safety.

Coe and John Johnson turned in strong springs, giving Herring enough confidence at cornerback to move Richardson to free safety this week. The decision made the Hogs three-deep at free safety with Randy Kelly (No. 2) and true freshman Elston Forte (No. 3).

Moore's move gave Herring a much-needed veteran at second-team linebacker, helping alleviate pressure on true freshmen second-teamers Freddie Fairchild (strongside) and Tyrell Graham (weakside). It also eliminated the logjam at second team defensive end, where Moore was fighting with Zach Snider for playing time.

Graham, Fairchild and Forte were among nine freshmen that were included on the offensive and defensive depth chart. The rest were: Jones, McFadden, left tackle Jose Valdez (second-team), flanker Reggie Fish (third-team) and right cornerback Jamar Love (fourth team).

"We've got depth now at safety," Herring said. "We've got depth at corner. We've got an older guy with the freshmen at second-team backer that's going to be a sound player for us. We've got our end situation somewhat squared away.

"Now we've got to grow. I don't think we're going to be a defense that's primed and ready at the first game. I hope and push and as we grow, as the schedule grows, that we get better as the season goes on."

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