Wednesday Grid Update, 9/24

Line play wasn't the problem against Alabama, but the linebackers and safeties didn't meet the expectations of defensive coordinator Willy Robinson.

Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson had been warned well before he got to the media that "tackling" would be the subject of the day.

"So you want to talk about tackling, do you?" Robinson opened his usual mid-week session with the media. "Let's do it."

Apparently, UA sports information director Kevin Trainor had given him the heads up that the questions would likely be in regards to poor tackling.

"Yeah, he told me that's what you guys would ask about," Robinson said. "We work on it every day. I don't know why we didn't tackle against Alabama. But we didn't. Maybe our players were awed by them. But it doesn't change from game to game. You put your eyes in the same place, grab cloth and wrap up. You tackle them all the same."

Robinson said he told his defensive players that it was about the same thing as Gene Hackman said in the movie Replacements. "What does it take? It's heart," Robinson said. "We've got to have courage and heart. We may be young, but if a dog is going to bite, he's going to bite as a puppy."

Robinson noted the defense had areas of improved performances against Alabama. He cited improved play for the second straight game by the defensive line, a subject of disappointment in the opener.

"The group I was really disappointed was with the safeties," Robinson said. "That's my group so I put that on me. The linebackers didn't do as well as we'd want, either. Jerry Franklin didn't fit the run gaps very well (at middle linebacker), but he's still our guy there. We just know he can play better. It wasn't like he wasn't trying. He just was missing the gaps.

"The defensive line made a big improvement this past week. They can play better, but I thought Malcolm Shepherd, Antwain Robinson, Jake Bequette and Adrian Davis all stood out. We just need more behind them in the back end of the defense. The linebackers and the safety have a ways to go. It was a back end thing against Alabama."

Robinson praised the performance of Freddy Burton on special teams and for effort in the running game. Burton, suspended for the first two games, will take a starting spot at weakside linebacker. Walner Leandre will move up at jack linebacker, but not because of any disappointmnt with freshman Jerico Nelson. Robinson said Nelson would move to strong safety and is slated to start this week.

"That's not an indication on effort from Dallas Washington," Robinson said. "He's trying hard and he wants to do it. He just hasn't found the right gaps all the time and that is a problem. He is going full speed. But we are going to go with the two freshmen, Elton Ford and Jerico Nelson, at the back end. Nelson, that young man has been productive and we want to try him back there. We'll still get the others in there because we plan to keep guys fresh."

Robinson thought the Hogs practiced well both Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. He cited Burton for leading the way.

"I'm just glad to be back out there," Burton said. "Sitting out two wasn't a good thing. I had to accept it, though. I just wanted to help the team this past week. I wanted to play special teams and make plays. I'm very excited to be back on the field."

Asked about the defense being challenged for lack of heart, Burton said, "I think what we've heard more than anything is to play like we've been coached. We've been taught where to be and we have to be there. We have to play our assignment and not make so many mental mistakes."

Burton knows most have labeled the defense as the problem area of the team.

"We are the underdogs this week and we know that," he said. "We know no one is giving us a bit of a chance. But we are going to give it our best shot. We are excited to get a chance to play another top team and try to prove to our doubters that we can play.

"Like I said, the coaches haven't mentioned lack of heart so much as making mistakes. They want us to do what we've been taught. We haven't thus far. We haven't been where we know to be."

Robinson said this will be a different challenge. Texas has a massive and physical offensive line, but brings a different style to the field.

"Alabama was more straight at you, but this is more a quarterback read and zone blocking scheme," Robinson said. "Don't get me wrong, you play the wrong technique and this offensive linemen will pancake you. We know that."

Robinson is impressed by quarterback Colt McCoy.

"The improvement he made over the summer, the confidence he has now, is very noticable," Robinson said. "He's a freak, an elusive 6-3, 225-pound athlete. He is not bothered by the blitz. That is gone. He's made impressive strides, very impressive."

Robinson does not worry about starting true freshmen on the road at Texas.

"We know what we are getting into," he said. "We won't have many in the stands. All of the eyes on us will be the enemy. But I think we'll do fine. You have to have the mindset that you can play anywhere. The field is the same. I think we'll account for ourselves and I think our young ones are looking forward to it.

"We've had some good preparation for Texas. We had two good practices before the (hurricane postponement) and we've had two good practices this week. We've had good carry over for this week. We've had a chance to evaluate what we do and cut back on some things for this game and try to do them better. I think that's a good thing about this game."

Wide receiver Lucas Miller, out Tuesday because of a concussion from the Alabama game, returned to practice Wednesday. Linebacker Jelani Smith, out with a hand injury, will not be available for the second straight game.

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