Relieving Defensive Depth Problems

FAYETTEVILLE -- Jamaal Anderson and Zach Snider equate their roles on Arkansas' defense to middle relievers in baseball. They don't start and rarely finish. But their importance in between helps get the Razorbacks through a complete game.

"We may not start, but with the rotation we have, we get to play just as much as a starter," said Anderson, who actually wih worked the first-team Wednesday. "We just feel like (UA defensive line coach Tracy) Rocker really doesn't have any starters, so we all come to work every day and study film and go about everything just as we would if we were the starters.

"He puts the players out there that are going to make a difference. That's all he's looking for."

Depth on defense was the chief concern among coaches entering the season. It still remains a concern, but the staff is gaining more confidence in reserves like Anderson and Snider with each game.

In last Saturday's 44-15 win against Louisiana-Monroe, the Razorbacks had a season-high 23 players more than twice the number of starters record tackles.

Reserves like Snider (6 tackles, two for loss, one sack, two quarterback hurries), John Johnson (seven tackles, one for a loss), Michael Grant (four tackles) and Shedrick Johnson (four tackles) made the biggest impacts of their careers. True freshman Marcus Shavers made his first start at defensive tackle and also received snaps late at defensive end.

"Hopefully, we are developing more depth," said defensive coordinator Reggie Herring. "It was good to get those guys more playing time. Those games are good. I wish we had more of those games to be able to develop more experience and get their feet wet.

"Right now, for the rest of the way, I don't know how much of that is going to happen."

With Arkansas beginning a six-game Southeastern Conference stand against Auburn on Saturday, depth could play an even larger role down the stretch.

"It's important for us to continue building up our depth because all we have left is conference games," said starting weakside linebacker Sam Olajubutu. "We're going to get banged up a lot, so it's important to know that we have some guys we can rely on coming in if we need them.

"And if you ever just need a quick breather for a play or two, you don't worry as much about coming out because we're not going to fall off much, if at all."

Herring said depth has improved on the defensive line and in the secondary, but he still has worries about the three linebacker spots.

Freshman Freddie Fairchild has helped depth at linebacker the most. He has started the past two games, giving the Hogs' quality reserves in Clarke Moore and Weston Dacus, who have both started games this season.

"I'll know more after this week," said Herring, who coaches linebackers. "This week is where we put all the speeches and theories, it's time to put it all to rest. We need to come play this week and get it done, point blank.

"We can talk until we are blue in the face, but we need guys that can get it done."

Against Louisiana-Monroe, the Razorbacks spent the majority of the time in a dime package, where six defensive backs are on the field. That gave Grant, John Johnson and Shedrick Johnson significant snaps as all three recorded career highs in tackles.

Kelly also made his first real contribution of the season and actually played more snaps (38) than starting free safety Matterral Richardson (35).For his efforts, Kelly was promoted to the first team on Wednesday while Richardson switched back to cornerback.

Kevin Woods also has proven to be reliable behind starting strong safety Vickiel Vaughn.

"Last week, we were able to get a lot of those guys in the game that haven't played as much and that's going to be big for us," said cornerbacks coach Bobby Allen. "We're getting experience and getting more depth in there. It's important to get guys like that some playing time, so they can get used to the speed of the game and gain confidence in what we're teaching them.

"We're going to need all of them."

On the defensive line, the Hogs have the least depth at end where Snider and Anderson are the only true backups for starters Anthony Brown and Desmond Sims. Depth at tackle continues to improve with Shavers, Ernest Mitchell, Jeremy Harrell and Fred Bledsoe providing relief behind starters Keith Jackson and Marcus Harrison.

In fact, Bledsoe spent time with the first team on Wednesday.

"I think we have a little bit more than two deep now at the tackle spots. We've probably got three, but at the end spots, we're still thin," Rocker said. "Just having guys like Snider and Anderson coming along the way they have been. It makes you feel better about that spot. That's what makes us a little more solid there.

"It's been the biggest plus so far. The depth is getting better, now we just need to win."


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