Things Looking Up for Robinson, Defense

FAYETTEVILLE — Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson has a lot to look forward to when Arkansas practices today.

It's the start of his second year in college football after spending the previous 10 in the NFL, so he's much more comfortable than he was in 2008. He has nine starters back from a group that slowly improved after a disastrous start last season. And then there are the newcomers, who have arrived to challenge for roles immediately.

But Robinson said he's more excited about something else: the size of his new group in comparison to last preseason.

"The most important thing I like about it is I'll have to look up at them," Robinson said. "I'm not looking at them eye to eye. ...

"That's where we've really improved ourselves."

Things are looking up for Robinson's defense as it returns to the practice field this afternoon. At the very least, Robinson's bunch will look much more like a Southeastern Conference unit thanks to Arkansas' emphasis on size on the recruiting trail.

Every new defensive player on the roster is listed as 6-foot or taller in Arkansas' media guide. Some of the biggest additions include: safety Anthony Leon (6-foot-4, 230 pounds), defensive tackle DeQuinta Jones (6-5, 307), linebacker Ryan Calendar (6-7, 226), cornerback Rudell Crim (6-0, 190), linebacker Terrell Williams (6-3, 225) and defensive end Colton Nash (6-6, 261).

Size won't guarantee playing time. Or success. But the Razorbacks feel much more confident about their overall makeup.

"To evaluate them, we won't know that until they put the pads on," Robinson said. "But they're all great additions for us.

"We've really helped ourselves on our side of the ball — and on the offensive side of the ball — with the size we've added on this football team. This is starting to look like a football team."

Several new players will get opportunities to earn spots on Arkansas' two-deep depth chart over the next month.

The secondary — which includes Leon, Crim, Darius Winston and David Gordon — is the area where the new help will likely be utilized most. But Arkansas, which returns every starter in its front seven, must build depth on the defensive line and at linebacker.

"We feel athletically they can (handle it)," Robinson said of the newcomers and how they'll fit in this season. "But again, we also have to learn how much can they handle mentally."

So Arkansas' goal this preseason will be blending as many newcomers with returning players, who are bigger, too.

The best example is defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard, who has bulked up from 270 pounds to 292 to handle the rigors of the interior line. Defensive ends Adrian Davis (252) and Jake Bequette (271), and linebacker Jerry Franklin (241) are all stronger as well.

Sheppard said the improvement on defense will help a unit that was pushed around in 2008. Arkansas was last in the SEC in scoring (31.2 points a game) and total defense (375.2 yards).

It's something the defense is determined to change in 2009.

"We're anxious to get started, on improving what was done last year," Sheppard said. "Guys are faster, stronger. We're definitely a more physical team, guys are getting bigger and faster."

Arkansas Football Practice

When: Today, 3-6 p.m.

Where: Arkansas practice fields in Fayetteville

Info: The Razorbacks reported to campus on Wednesday, but players and coaches were not made available for comment. Arkansas will hold its first preseason practice today. Newcomers will step on the field at 3, while veterans join them at 4. Practices are open to the public in the stadium or on the practice fields beginning today and running through August 21. Practices in the Walker Pavilion will be closed due to space constraints. Fan policies include:

• Fans should sit in designated seating areas

• No lawn chairs will be allowed

• The use of cell phones is prohibited

• Any photography or video taping is prohibited with the exception of media outlets during the first 20 minutes of the workouts

• Children should not be left unattended at practice

• No pets may be brought inside the practice field gates

• No autographs will be allowed inside the practice field area

Looking Up

Arkansas' defense promises to be bigger — and hopes to be better — with the addition of its 2009 signees. Each member of the class, which will practice for the first time today, is at least 6-foot. Here is a look at each new defensive player and his height and weight:

LB Ryan Calendar (6-7, 226)

DB Rudell Crim (6-0, 190)

DE Caleb Evans (6-4, 248)

DB David Gordon (6-0, 180)

DT De'Quinta Jones (6-5, 307)

DB Anthony Leon (6-4, 230)

DB Jerry Mitchell (6-7, 205)

LB Austin Moss (6-3, 223)

DE Colton Nash (6-6, 261)

DB Ross Rasner (6-0, 205)

LB Terrell Williams (6-3, 225)

DB Darius Winston (6-0, 180)

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