State of the Hogs: Big Uglies

Arkansas filled their needs in a "big" way on national signing day. Defensive line signees headline the Hogs' 25-man class.

The football players signing with Arkansas on Wednesday won't be among the nation's top recruiting classes. The stars don't add up. It suits me just fine. The big uglies are there.

That's what my friend Jim Daniel always asks me about, the big uglies. He wants to know how the Hogs look in the trenches, mainly the defensive line.

I think the same way. Give me defensive tackles and defensive ends on signing day, I'm happy.

Quarterbacks are important, too. But as long as Bobby Petrino is the coach at Arkansas, I don't worry about quarterbacks. As I've written before in this space, he'll find quarterbacks and quarterbacks will find him.

Defensive tackles? That's different. It's the toughest thing to find. Petrino admitted as much Wednesday as he introduced his signing class. He was beaming about this group of defensive linemen. Here they are:

Calvin Barnett, 6-3, 330, Tulsa, Okla. LaCraig Brown, 6-4, 288, Monroe, La. Jeremiah Jackson, 6-3, 260, Hoover, Ala. Byran Jones, 6-2, 310, Junction City Chris Smith, 6-2, 230, Mount Ulla, N.C.

There might be one more defensive lineman in this 25-man class. Jatashun "Big Tex" Beachum is listed as a running back, but he is listed at 6-1, 270. He'll get to begin his UA career in the offensive backfield, but don't be surprised if he moves to defense at some point.

"He's 270-plus," Petrino said. "There's a lot of plus in him right now. He is a very, very good football player. He wants to start at running back, but he might grow out of that position. He might be a linebacker, defensive end, H-back, tight end. He's an unbelievable athlete."

Petrino said Big Tex reminds him of former Louisiville running back Michael Bush, especially with the way he moves his feet for a big back. He moves his feet in the hole like Bush.

Those same quick feet would come in handy in the defensive front, too. I can't help but believe they'll be perfect at defensive end.

New UA defensive end coach Steve Caldwell wasn't pushing for Beachum on Wednesday. He was happy with what he sees in the new class even with Big Tex labeled as a running back. He is fascinated with all of the defensive line candidates, noting most are as suited for end as they are for tackle because of their athletic ability.

The one probably not headed inside out of that bunch is Chris Smith. At 230, he may even be small for defensive end. Not Caldwell. He made his living at Tennessee under Phil Fulmer taking undersized flyers and turning them into pass rush phenoms.

"We did," Caldwell said. "Those guys made me into a good coach. I remember when I got to Tennessee, I'd never coached defensive ends before. That was the first year for Leonard Little. Everyone thought I was a guru for defensive ends. It was him.

"I think what you see in some of these guys is athletic ability and the way they can move their feet. That is what makes them able to play maybe inside or outside. That's what the NFL is looking for, guys who they can move around. I like these guys for that reason. I love to recruit these kinds of athletes. They make you look better as a coach.

"I think it's the same kind of thing you do with backs. You find players that can play wide receiver or defensive back. You recruit these kinds of athletes in the defensive line, you are going to be alright. There are a lot of inside/outside guys in this class and that's good. We helped ourselves with our defensive end numbers today.

"I think when you look at Byran Jones, he's unique. He has that ability to play either inside or out. Jeremiah Jackson is like that, too."

Petrino said Brown, listed as an end, is still filling out.

"When we started recruiting him, he was 260," Petrino said. "Not now. He keeps getting bigger. He's 288 now. We pulled up to his house the other day and he was in the driveway lifting weights. He can move and run. He could grow into a defensive tackle or a nose guard."

Jackson just turned 17.

"He can play end or tackle," Petrino said. "He's big, athletic and can rush the passer. He has that ability to bend and he's still very young."

Recruiting is all about filling needs. If ever a team needed a strong class in the defensive front, it was the Razorbacks. Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson spoke on that just minutes after the Liberty Bowl concluded the night of Jan. 2 when asked what area his team needed to improve.

"We need some guys up front," he said. "We need to be like the teams we are playing. We just need to be bigger and stronger up front than we are right now."

That's why Robinson was beaming Wednesday. He didn't care about any rankings.

"There may be a lot of three-star guys in this group, but I am pretty sure that some of them can't be far from being four stars," he said. "I bet they are one/tenth of a point away. I don't know what they are missing to be four stars, but it can't be much.

"We don't recruit off the stars. We evaluate film and find what we need. Sometimes I get through with the tape and wonder why they weren't a four or five. The only thing I can figure as to why they are threes are that old so-and-so isn't recruiting them. That's fine with me.

"We are more concerned with the type of athlete they are and their potential than the number of stars. And we want to know how they are going to fit in our system."

Petrino closed his signing day briefing by answering a question about how many in his latest class might play next year. He's had to play too many freshmen the last two years.

"There will be a few (play next fall)," he said. "There are some who are special players and they need to play. They will have a real chance to compete. They need to have a nice summer and they will have a real chance. But we have more experience coming back. More from this class will redshirt than the last two."

The sweet news is that most of those "special players" are big uglies. Jim Daniel, you are welcome.

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