Uncertainty At Linebacker

FAYETTEVILLE — Less than a week after his teammates voted him to be a defensive captain, senior Wendel Davis lost his spot as Arkansas' first-team middle linebacker.

The changes didn't end there, though.

Sophomore Jerry Franklin, the only linebacker to start all 12 games for the Razorbacks last season, was also demoted to the second-team defense earlier this week.

It was all part of a motivational ploy by Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino. He wanted to send a message to the two linebackers that their starting jobs are up for grabs, and if they don't practice like veterans, they'll find themselves lining up next to backups.

"If he tells you every spot is open, he means every spot is open," Franklin said. "That's what he means."

Over the first week of preseason camp, Arkansas' coaches have mixed up their linebacker rotation in an attempt to find a cohesive unit. But it's been a dizzying game of musical chairs, and at the moment, the experiment continues.

Franklin and Davis worked with the first-team defense Sunday. A day later, sophomore Bret Harris and redshirt freshman Tenarius Wright got reps with the starters.

Franklin returned to the first-team defense Tuesday, only to line up at Davis' middle linebacker spot. And two days after being demoted to the second team, Davis was reunited with Franklin on Wednesday.

All the while, junior Freddy Burton has also been in the mix for one of the two outside linebacker spots.


"It's still a work in progress," inside linebackers coach Reggie Johnson said. "We still got a lot of camp to go, and hopefully by the time this thing ends we'll have everything set the way we want it."

Petrino is hoping to get more consistent play from his linebackers than a year ago, when the unit struggled and the Razorbacks ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in scoring defense (31.2 yards per game) and total defense (375.2 yards per game).

But the past few days haven't gone as Petrino had hoped, and he didn't waste any time letting Franklin and Davis know that he wasn't pleased with their effort in practice. He quickly relegated them to the second-team defense.

"Coach is trying to get us motivated because we had a couple of bad days, a bad practice here and there," said Franklin, who led the Razorbacks with 87 tackles last season. "Coach obviously was upset with that, as you can see with the changes that he had made in the linebacker corp."

Johnson said all the changes lately have helped show the Razorbacks have more depth at linebacker than in 2008, when three freshmen started the season opener.

Harris, in particular, has impressed coaches in practice with his speed, increased size and ability to read the quarterback's eyes to gage what offensive play is coming.

"We're all battling for spots to see who gets (them) after camp," said Harris, who didn't record any tackles in 12 games last season as a reserve at strong safety. "We're all just working hard.

"Hopefully, the best player will have the starting job."

And as for Davis and Franklin, Petrino said Wednesday that he's seen a noticable change in their attitudes since the demotions.

"They're responding. They're working hard. They both want to be in there," Petrino said. "One thing we're going to do, we're going to practice right or we're going to practice with the second team."

At A Glance

Arkansas' Projected Starting Linebackers

Name Class Last Season

Freddy Burton Jr. Had 66 tackles in 10 games.

Wendel Davis Sr. Recorded 53 tackles in tough year.

Jerry Franklin Soph. Led team with 87 tackles.

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