Nelson Has Become ‘Jack' Of All Trades

FAYETTEVILLE — The most memorable hit of Arkansas' season actually frightened senior safety Matt Harris.

Jerico Nelson's crushing, helmet-removing blow on Auburn's Mario Fannin didn't only hand the Tigers a 4-yard loss during Arkansas' 44-23 win last Saturday. It didn't just send most of the 72,559 fans inside Reynolds Razorback Stadium into a frenzy, either.

Nelson's demolishing tackle equally inspired and terrified his teammate.

"Honestly, it scared me pretty bad," Harris said of the second-quarter hit with Arkansas leading 6-0. "Jerico absolutely crushed him, and I thought one of them might be hurt. Then I saw the helmet fly off, and I thought a flag was coming. But then I saw it on the big screen.

"After that hit, it was just deafening out there. After that, the whole defense was really into the game."

Smashing backs and receivers isn't Nelson's only talent, however. The sophomore displays above-average speed and quickness. He handles coverages with ease. He tackles with high efficiency.

Nelson even caught punts at the end of Wednesday's practice, as Arkansas prepared for Saturday's trip to No. 1 Florida. And don't ignore this fact: He also rushed for 22 touchdowns his senior season at Destrehan (La.) High.

That array of talents has made Nelson a perfect fit at the Jack position, the linebacker/safety hybrid position Arkansas uses mostly against Spread offenses.

"(Jerico's) not under the radar for us at all," Petrino said, responding to a question about a perceived lack of media and/or public attention given to Nelson before Saturday. "He's a great football player for us. A lot of the things we do are designed because of what Jerico can do.

"He's that cross between a safety and a linebacker that's real good at blitzing, real good at tackling and can play man coverage. He's been a big part of our defense."

Nelson didn't immediately thrive at the position, but Harris said the 5-foot-10, 205-pounder has "caught on faster than anybody thought he would." When he arrived at Arkansas, Nelson was just one of five players trying to earn playing time as the Hogs' Jack.

But in only 1 1/2 seasons, Nelson has become an integral part of the Razorbacks' defense, evidenced by his career-best effort Saturday that included a team-high 10 tackles. Nelson also forced an important fourth-quarter turnover when he sacked Auburn quarterback Chris Todd, jarring the ball loose.

"I really like playing the position," Nelson said. "The coaches count on me being able to do everything, and I like it. It basically shows I can play inside the box and outside the box and in different kinds of coverages. And you know, I really like to hit."

Fannin could attest to Nelson's passion for demolishing opponents. Nelson admitted Wednesday that he had watched the hit "maybe eight times" since Saturday's game. He also said he's heard from family, friends and even random people on campus about the hit on Fannin.

Petrino and Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson both stressed the importance of developing depth behind Nelson at the Jack position. They agreed that Nelson has worn down late in games this season and that the Razorbacks would benefit from giving him the occasional play off.

Not too many plays, though. Robinson realistically can't afford to bring Nelson to the sideline too often.

"He's really improved on his tackling," Robinson said. "He brings a lot of energy to our football team. He's one of those guys that, all of a sudden, you say ‘Whoa' after he's hit (someone).

"That play that he made on Saturday ignited us on defense."

Jerico Nelson

Class: Sophomore

Position: Jack linebacker

Height: 5-10

Weight: 205

Hometown: Destrehan, La.

Notables: Ranks second among Razorbacks this season in total tackles with 30 and is tied for third in tackles-for-loss with 3 1/2 sacks. ... Played in 10 games and started seven of them last season as a true freshman, finishing with 35 tackles and ranking third on the team with 3 1/2 sacks. ... Rushed for more than 1,110 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior at Destrehan High. ... Ranked the 21st-best athlete in the nation his senior season by and chose Arkansas over Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia Tech, Miami and Ole Miss.

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