Robinson Trying To Find Arkansas' Jack

FAYETTEVILLE — After a taxing day of meetings, class, practice and studying, the last thing Walner Leandre has wanted to do is put his nose into Arkansas' defensive playbook.

But every night this week, the senior from Tampa, Fla., has delayed his bedtime and grabbed the thick binder.

"I glance at it at night before I go to sleep," Leandre said.

Leandre can at least take solace in the fact that he isn't alone. A handful of other players have been studying up auditioning for the starting role at the newly created Jack position, a "hybrid linebacker/safety," according to Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson.

None of them imagined they'd be this busy learning a new position only a few weeks before the season begins.

"We found out the day we reported (Sunday)," redshirt freshman Bret Harris said. "It's been tough. But I took it on as a positive, as a way I could maybe get some playing time this year."

Even Robinson didn't know he'd be asking players to pick up a new position when he accepted the defensive coordinator job in February. But after spring practice, Robinson analyzed the Razorbacks' lack of depth at linebacker and figured Arkansas' strength in numbers in the secondary could be used to its advantage.

Robinson identified the players he believed could handle the classroom work and the physicality required of the new position. So far, the defenders working at the Jack have encouraged him.

Leandre has gotten the most snaps throughout the first week of fall camp.

"He looks really good," Robinson said. "He's physical. He's fluid. He's athletic. Sometimes he seems like he connects the dots pretty well, and sometimes it seems like it's dot and then it fuzzes out. There's some inconsistencies in what he does day in and day out that he's got to improve upon."

Competition has been heated at the position, Robinson said. Leandre, Harris, senior Dallas Washington and true freshmen Khiry Battle and Jerico Nelson have all worked out at the Jack. For all of them, the adjustment to playing closer to the line of scrimmage has presented a stiff challenge.

Essentially, the Jack plays exactly where a third linebacker would line up, giving Arkansas a similar 4-3 look when the Jack is on or off the field.

"It's a little rough down there on the inside," Harris said with a chuckle. "You have to be able to read your keys quicker down there, as far as blocks and pulls. It's a little bit easier, though, because you can see right into the backfield.

"I'll work on it. I'll be able to handle it."

Leandre figures to deal with the physical play the easiest, considering he spent time at linebacker throughout his high school and junior college years. Regardless of who emerges from the competition, though, expect the Jack to spend more time on the field than next to Robinson.

"It's going to be on the field until we take it off," Robinson said. "We're not trying to match it up with personnel groups at all. ... It is our base defense."

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