State of the Hogs: D-Line

Arkansas defensive tackles coach Bobby Allen likes what he hears from summer workouts. There is leadership and experience coming back on the defensive line. It's the best news for any football team.

Quarterback play is the most important aspect of football. Great quarterbacks are the great equalizers.

Equalizer from what? That's the easiest question in football.

My rule: The team with the best tackles usually wins, except when quarterback play is out of whack.

That's why I went straight to Bobby Allen on Thursday as we watched it rain at Paradise Golf Club before Bobby Petrino's media golf outing — eventually washed out.

Allen coaches the Arkansas defensive tackles. When you add the ends into the discussion to cover the entire defensive line, it's the area I think which has improved the most since this time last year.

That group — led by Malcolm Sheppard, Adrian Davis and Jake Bequette — looks like it belongs in the SEC. My questions focused on Sheppard's weight, now bouncing between 292 and 293 one week ahead of the start of camp.

"He's learned that you can't play in this league at tackle when you are just 270," Allen said. "He's had a great winter and summer. He's held this weight for a long time now and he's rock solid."

That goes for Bequette, too. Allen said the junior end has changed his body the most among all the Hogs in the defensive front.

"Bequette has had a great summer," Allen said. "He's got a different body now. I think you'll see that make a big difference in his play this year. He's just matured over this summer."

Sheppard, Davis and Bequette have stepped up as leaders in that group. Allen was excited to see the way they mentored incoming freshman Dede Jones this summer.

"Malcolm took Dede under his wing," Allen said. "It's been something to watch. At this position, more than any other position on the field, older players have a huge advantage over the younger players. They are just so much stronger and more mature. I think that is a shock for the young ones when they first get to campus.

"I'm sure it was for Dede and it's just a tough step. They need to learn how to work, how to prepare and get over the homesick all at the same time. Malcolm stayed with Dede, made sure he was included in everything and helped him get over all of that. I've been pleased with the kind of leadership all of them have given the younger players, but especially the way Malcolm paired up with Dede."

I've expected the defensive front to make a positive step forward ever since I understood Bobby Petrino's first move in the strength and conditioning program, the hire of Jason Veltkamp. That's Veltkamp's forte, developing defensive lineman.

Veltkamp said he likes to spend time with the D-line at the training table, in the weight room and heads to the point in the field where that group toils early each day of practice. He understands it's the foundation of the team.

Another reason I headed to Allen first was to check the recruiting developments in his home. Son Brandon is a junior-to-be quarterback at Fayetteville High School.

There are reports the Allen home phone has been ringing off the hook as college coaches have seen tape and heard camp reports about Allen's passing ability.

"Oh, nothing happens on the home phones anymore," Bobby Allen said. "The coaches go straight to the cell phones now. That's where Brandon is getting the calls."

There haven't been any offers, but that might be because most assume he'll end up with his father at Arkansas. There was no comment from the UA defensive line coach. There are rules about recruiting talk between coaches and the media.

It's hard to define where that falls when it comes to family blood. Allen didn't want to test any rules.

Back to my rule. You want great tackles, but you better not let quarterback play get out of whack. That's why I always ask about good, young quarterbacks, too.

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