State of the Hogs: Defense

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Keep it simple stupid. It's called the KISS formula. It's been utilized by coaches in sports as long as there have been any form of competition.

The less you think, the more you can react seems to be the root of that formula.

Thinking slows you down. Simplicity allows you to play fast.

But it seems like the new football staff at Arkansas wants it both ways. They want to be fast, but they are far from simple in their approach on either side of the ball.

You've heard from more than a few players on the offensive side talk about how much more diverse the offense will be under Bobby Petrino.

Apparently, that goes for the defense, too.

"This is going to be a lot more complex," strong safety Dallas Washington said earlier this summer when he was asked to describe the scheme installed by Petrino and new defensive coordinator Willy Robinson.

"It's much more complicated than what we did in the past here. We have a lot of responsibilities in both our man and zone schemes and you have to be able to react fast to the keys that tell you run or pass. You have to maintain your discipline within the scheme and be able to handle your gaps in the run game, or be able to find your guy in the passing game. Much more complex."

The rate of learning on defense was just as intense as it was on offense where everyone noticed the change in the passing game. Washington said the key was not just to learn your own position, but the other spots, too.

"The whole key is to understand the entire defense," he said. "How quick everyone understands the rest of the defense will determine how well we play in it. You have to have the whole defense down. Once that happens, we can do a lot of things with this defense. We will be so flexible and complex.

"This spring, we spent a lot of time with the coaches teaching us each position. They explained it and explained it and taught us every position on the field. We had to slow things down at the first, but after about a week or 10 days it became obvious to all of us on defense how much we can do with this defense and that we can be successful. We've got a big defensive playbook. It is a pro scheme and we've got pro coaches."

And, that means not sitting in man-to-man coverages play after play as the Hogs were the last three seasons.

"I think that has helped all of us," he said. "Man is the hardest thing to play, if you are talking about athletic wise. You are on a guy in man, the tendency is not to see what is going on somewhere else. You just can't see anything."

Whether it was in zone or man concepts, Washington saw a lot of D. J. Williams this past spring. He was locked up against the sophomore-to-be tight end/H-back in most of the coverages.

"The strong safety is going to the tight end side most of the time," Washington said. "I encountered D. J. a lot. I'm telling you, he put a few good licks on me. He got me, good. I might have underestimated what he could do as far as a hit at first. He's a young guy so you don't expect him to hit like that. But he's thick and solid. I got him a few times as the spring went along.

"What you have to say is that the way the new offense uses a guy like D. J. is so exciting. They are going to get him the ball and he knows what to do with it. He's a real load to get to the ground.

"Just watching the offense practice is exciting. I think when I saw what we had on offense, I'd say we are going to move it on anyone."

But can the Hogs stop anyone? That seems to be the question that pops up in the summer football magazines over and over. Washington isn't making bold predictions, but he seems confident that the defense is going to hold its on. He emphasizes that the Petrino touch is just as much a defensive thing.

"I was a little surprised with how much he spent with our defense in practices," Washington said. "I wasn't used to seeing a head coach come to our defense with thoughts. Coach Petrino asks a lot of the defense."

In fact, it was pretty common for the head coach to quiz defensive players on the way to the field about assignments or stop them after a play to double check a read.

"He'd ask you things to see if you were paying attention," Washington said. "You better be able to answer his questions. I made sure I studied each night because I knew it might be the head coach asking me about what I was supposed to do. I could always answer his questions. He did that all spring. I will say he knew our defensive keys, schemes and steps as well as he knew the offense. "I would say that he's been a student of the game for a long, long time. He expects us to be students of the game, too. You better study and be ready."

The defense learned to be tougher and play longer. In the past, defenders rotated after four or five plays throughout a scrimmage. That didn't happen this past spring.

"If the offense kept it for 10 or 15 plays, you stayed on the field that long on defense," Washington said. "That wasn't the case before. Defensive rotations were every four plays. It was a way to test you. You get tired, that's the time to see if you can improve. I think we improved our endurance and strength this spring. When game time comes, we shouldn't face anything nearly as tough as what we've done in practice."

It wasn't anything like KISS. In fact, it was tough and complex. The Hogs aren't about to be sweet to anyone this fall.




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