State of the Hogs: Safety First

The Hogs needed someone to step up at strong safety, but the key was development of depth at the field cornerback slot. With Isaac Madison and Darius Winston on track, Rudell Crim is free to be strong.

Forgive me if I put Arkansas spring football into perspective with fly fishing thoughts. The Hogs landed a 26-inch brown trout this week when Rudell Crim got a tryout at strong safety.

I don't catch many 26-inch browns. There has been a grand total of one in all my years of wading the White and Norfork rivers. The Hogs have found about as many strong safeties over the last decade.

Crim, senior from Tallahassee, Fla., was the top cover cornerback on the UA football team last fall. But, he might have been a safety until Isaac Madison blew out his knee in two-a-days. Crim was a strong safety in junior college after playing corner at Rikards High.

Tuesday was the first time he worked at safety in a UA practice. He looked like a natural. Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson raved about Crim in his session with the media.

Robinson made the move to stabilize the back end of the defense after seeing both Madison, back from ACL reconstruction, and Darius Winston battle Crim in a three-man rotation at the field cornerback slot over the first three weeks of spring drills. The Hogs don't need all three at that spot.

Crim, 6-foot and 190 pounds, is a big version of Madison. Both are sound in technique, understand the total scheme and have the ability to run and change directions. They can play the toughest position on the field, the spot that has to stop the go routes and play wideouts without help from the safety. It's a highly skilled spot.

Winston has that kind of skill, too. He can run with the top SEC wideouts. He may need another summer in the weight room to be as physical as Crim and Madison, but the Hogs think he'll get there. He's a true five-star signee and will be all Madison wants in the battle for the top spot at field corner.

For now, Crim is ahead of Ross Rasner and Elton Ford at the strong safety spot. He gives the Hogs much more speed and athletic ability at safety. He can take the slot receiver in man coverage and has the burst to run down mistakes. He's not afraid of collisions.

More important, Crim understands the total scope of the defense. Robinson said there was one mistake Tuesday that was corrected instantly. The coach said that was easy because the concepts of help and leverages were understood. He said Crim knew where his safety help was coming from as a cornerback.

With Crim at safety, the Hogs now have a chance at an SEC quality secondary. Ramon Broadway is more than adequate at border corner. Jerico Nelson is superb as an extra safety/linebacker in the hybrid slot in the front seven. Free safety Tramain Thomas showed what he can do in the bowl game and has been good this spring.

You could see Robinson's relief as he talked about the Crim move Tuesday evening. It's hard to sound confident about a defense if you haven't been sound at safety. The errors there and lack of top end speed have been a problem the last two years. Perhaps all of that is about to end.

Middle linebacker, the other major question mark ahead of spring, looks good, too. Between Jermaine Love, Terrell Williams and Jerry Franklin, there should be an answer there. Look out for Williams. He's closing fast and he's the best looking linebacker in a UA uniform since Quinton Caver. He's 6-3, 245 and still gaining weight. He can fly. And he goes fast in the right direction more each day.

Rudell Crim is a strong safety, not slated for any action at free. But this might be the appropriate time to offer that the Hogs' defensive coordinator is headed in the right direction. It's too early to say Willy is home free. But he may have landed a big one this week.

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