For Arkansas Defense, It's Wake-Up Time

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring looked like he was in midseason form, even while most people were still asleep.

By 5:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, Herring was talking to his defensive players in his usual tone of voice: loud and straight to the point.

"The real people are here this morning!" Herring said before Arkansas' first spring football practice. A few moments later, he hollered at several players to wake up.

Herring doesn't have the luxury of going through the spring with a defense stocked with talent, depth and few holes to fill. He needs players who have seen limited playing time to step up in a hurry.

If there was ever a time for a wake-up call, that might be now.

"The (frustrating) part is once you get going pretty good, then you've got to start over," Herring said after Wednesday's early morning practice. "And basically, we've got a question mark at (cornerback), we've got a question mark at linebacker."

The early departures of defensive end Jamaal Anderson and cornerback Chris Houston to the NFL, along with the losses of defensive tackle Keith Jackson Jr., linebacker Sam Olajubutu and strong safety Randy Kelly, leave the Razorbacks in desperate need of some defensive help.

Fortunately for Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, he has 13 more spring practices to try to find those replacements.

Arkansas' players will take part in conditioning drills today before they're given the next two weeks off for spring practice. They're scheduled to resume practice on March 26.

"Defensively, of course, we're not there yet," Nutt said. "But I like their intensity. I like the way their moving."

For a second straight spring, Herring finds himself having to work with few quality linebackers.

Senior Weston Dacus is back. And it appeared over the first two days of spring practice that sophomore Freddie Fairchild is close to being fully recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the second game of last season.

But other than that, Arkansas' linebacker core is thin -- though not nearly as bad as last spring when the team had only four scholarship linebackers on the roster.

Adrian Davis and Wendel Davis got limited playing time as freshmen last season, and there are several other linebackers who have been bothered by injuries.

"You've got guys that have played a couple snaps, some special teams, but now they're counted on. It's just different," Herring said.

"When you're just sitting back there, covering punts and hanging out during school and waiting for the band to play, it's a little bit different than being counted on as a potential starter."

The good news for the Razorbacks is that they don't need to look hard for someone to replace Anderson, the Southeastern Conference's sack leader last season.

Sophomore Malcolm Sheppard has the starting defensive end spot opposite junior Antwain Robinson locked up. Herring said that Sheppard was actually better than Anderson against the run last season.

Now if only Herring could find a few more reliable cornerbacks, things could go a bit smoother this spring.

"Depth will be a question, period," Herring said. "But I feel actually a little bit better about our safeties right now than I do our corners, which was the other way last year."

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