Love Looking For Big Year

This is the second in a series previewing Arkansas' position players

FAYETTEVILLE — It didn't matter to Arkansas cornerback Jamar Love that the Razorbacks had been given three days off earlier this month.

The start of Arkansas' preseason practice was inching closer and Love wanted to make sure he was completely prepared. So instead of stepping away for one final weekend of rest before the season began, Love was on practice the field with teammate Shedrick Johnson.

"I just wanted to work on my footwork," Love said Monday. "I just wanted to make sure it was right."

When Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino arrived on campus last winter he said he wanted the Razorbacks to become "students of the game." And by all indications, the message has been absorbed by Love.

The North Little Rock native, whose most extensive work with the Razorbacks has come in former defensive coordinator Reggie Herring's nickel packages, said he is doing everything he can to make sure he has a big senior year as Arkansas transitions to a new coaching staff.

He proved it during the summer, when teammates recognized Love as one of the defense's hardest workers.

He was named a captain for his efforts along with linebacker Elston Forte and lineman Malcolm Sheppard.

"Jamar has come a long way," strong safety Dallas Washington said. "He stepped up and he's been a leader. He works hard. He knows what to do when he's out there.

"He's one of those positions you don't have to worry about too much because he is accountable."

The truth is, Arkansas really needs the stability.

The 6-foot-1, 197-pounder has three starts in his career, which qualifies as a wealth of experience for a young secondary replacing all four starters from 2007. The Razorbacks are building the group from the ground up and its struggles in Sunday's scrimmage were a sign that it won't be an easy task.

The good news is the Razorbacks know they can count on Love, who has played in 33 career games. Most of the work was on special teams, but Love said the experiences have prepared him for the job he has inherited.

"Being in a reserve role the past two years, I learned a lot from the players who were ahead of me," Love said. "(Former Arkansas cornerbacks) Matterral (Richardson), Michael Grant, Chris Houston, all those players.

"I just took everything I learned from them and I've tried to combine it into one."

Cornerbacks coach Lorenzo Ward said it's clear that Love intends to stand out this season. He also said one of his best traits is his inability to settle for mediocrity.

"He's his biggest critic," Ward said. "He sees the things he does wrong, he understands why he did them and he tries to work on them. To me he is a student of the game and you have to be to be a good defensive back."

Love said he's also trying to become a force off the field for the Razorbacks. He clearly has garnered enough respect with his work ethic, but Love wants to become an outspoken voice for the defense as well.

Love, who was soft spoken during an interview Monday, said it has been one of his biggest challenges.

But it's no surprise to Ward that Love is working on it.

"I think he's close to being the type leader that I need and that's probably the biggest progression he has made," Ward said. "I tell them, ‘You don't have to lead vocally. Lead by example.' But he's trying to do both and he's steadily growing in that role."

Breaking Them Down

Defensive Backs at a Glance

Sure Thing: The Razorbacks believe they are in good hands at strong safety, where Dallas Washington steps into the starting role after three years as a reserve. The senior was lauded by defensive coordinator Willy Robinson on Monday for being an "amazing kid" who is giving the Razorbacks great effort this preseason.

Big Question: Robinson's concern this preseason has been a legitimate one: Can the Razorbacks quit giving up the big play. The secondary has had a knack of surrendering long touchdowns in scrimmages since the spring. A blown coverage led to a 50-yard touchdown catch by receiver Carlton Salters in Sunday's scrimmage.

Top Newcomer: The Razorbacks have a handful of freshmen in the secondary, but Louisiana native Jerico Nelson has made the biggest impact. The 5-foot-9 Nelson spent time with the first-team defense during the scrimmage after Washington left with cramps. He delivered a big hit, too, popping a fullback on a pass play.

Quotable: "As a secondary you've got to pride yourself on not giving up the deep ball. We've got to prove to everyone we can do it. We've got a lot of confidence in ourselves and we don't second-guess ourselves. But as a secondary, you don't get beat deep."

— Free safety Matt Harris

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