UA Defense Will Miss Anderson, Houston

LITTLE ROCK--Before re-upping on a Talent Pipeline Agreement with the Southeastern Conference, the NFL asked for a sign of good faith and the Column A Plan was born.

Called C.A.P., it was on a mythical list of possibilities considered by the SEC. Eventually, the people in Birmingham endorsed the move to make a limited number of underclassmen available immediately for the draft in April. The NFL said the success of Vince Young, Jay Cutler, Reggie Bush and other first-year players had only whetted the fans' appetite for more new faces. After perusing the All-SEC lists and various statistical categories, the league identified players likely to be selected on the first day of the NFL draft and placed them in Column A. The list was circulated and each of the league's 12 schools was asked to make a choice. Arkansas offered up defensive end Jamaal Anderson. LSU named quarterback JaMarcus Russell. South Carolina selected wide receiver Sidney Rice and Tennessee took a similar route, picking Robert Meacham. Under some pressure to give up quarterback Andre Woodson, Kentucky escaped by promising to qualify for a bowl game for a second straight year. Florida deferred until after the national championship game against Ohio State. The league would not address the rumor that some schools did not have any players who qualified. All of the above is facetious, except that Anderson, Russell, Rice and Meacham have decided to enter the NFL draft. Although the loss of Anderson will hurt the Arkansas defense of 2007, schools that recruit top-notch athletes can expect to lose many of them after they have fulfilled their three-year obligation. Considering the money that is thrown around, that's simply the landscape these days. Coaches know it; fans should accept it. For example, if Darren McFadden stays healthy in ‘07, I would be astounded if he is back in ‘08. He could be the first running back selected next year and the six-year contract that Bush signed with New Orleans included about $26 million in guaranteed money — the figure that really matters. Set up as a resource for underclassmen, the NFL Draft Advisory Committee has told Anderson he will be taken in the second round. The committee tends to be conservative to avoid misleading young players. Anderson helped himself with three sacks of Wisconsin's slow-moving John Stocco in the Capital One Bowl and believes he could go in the first round. He's probably right, particularly if he clocks 4.6 in the 40. At 6-6, 280 and with that speed, he could be used 12-15 times per game to rush the passer while he is learning to play the position every down. In fact, NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said Monday that Anderson would now be No. 5 in his mock draft. Mathias Kiwanuka, the last player taken in the first round of the 2006 NFL drat, signed a five-year deal with the New York Giants that included $5 million guaranteed. Like Anderson, he is a defensive end. Arkansas cornerback Chris Houston is also entering the draft, and cover corners are so coveted that he is likely to be among the first 100 players selected. Freshmen this year, Malcolm Sheppard and Jerell Norton are the players-most-likely to succeed Anderson and Houston. But, replacements of all-league quality are not just plugged in and it is unreasonable to expect either to be as effective immediately. The loss of Anderson and Houston is another red flag for fans who look at ‘07, see only McFadden and Felix Jones, and deduce that another 10-win season is imminent. In addition to Anderson and Houston, the defense must replace tackle Keith Jackson Jr., and linebacker Sam Olajubutu. On offense, most of the line is gone, including tackle Tony Ugoh, who probably played his way into the first round of the draft. Arkansas fans in search of the positives can cite the fact that the defense will not have to corral Russell or cover Rice and Meacham. Russell was 14-of-22 for 210 yards and two touchdowns in Little Rock. Rice caught seven passes for 126 yards, including five catches in the Gamecocks' second-half comeback. Meacham had 67 receptions this year, including four against Arkansas. Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media's Arkansas News Bureau. e-mail: hking@arkansasnews.com.

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