Improved Defense

The Little Rock Razorback Club hosted Arkansas assistant football coaches Willy Robinson and Tim Horton on Thursday night. Robinson thinks his side of the ball has caught up with the Razorback offense.

Willy Robinson discussed plenty in his turn at the microphone at the Little Rock Razorback Club's summer barbecue Thursday night at Parkhill Baptist Church. But the best tidbit was as simple line that drew applause.

Hawgs Illustrated sponsored the banquet. Corky's Barbecue served dinner.

"We've caught up with our offense as far as talent and ability," Robinson said during his 15-minute address ahead of recruiting coordinator Tim Horton.

Robinson, third-year UA defensive coordinator and a long-time NFL assistant, noticed a change in the talent level in spring drills and says he's also gotten a thumbs up from the strength and conditioning coach concerning the new arrivals this summer from the 2010 class.

Robinson started out by saying he understands the defense needs to improve and believes Arkansas got the right signees to make that happen.

"It didn't rank up there with the recruiting gurus," Robinson said of Arkansas' 2010 class, "but it fits us."

Robinson said Razorback strength coach Jason Veltkamp has told coaches this is the most impressive freshman class he has seen in three years at Arkansas. Robinson raved about newcomers Chris Smith and Byran Jones, and said they have been pleasantly surprised with the early development of Braylon Mitchell.

"Chris Smith is as good a football player and athlete as I've seen at any level," said Robinson, a former NFL coordinator. "Byran Jones fits into that category as a freak. He'll be a big-time player for us.

"We're excited about this football team. We're going to look like the teams we're playing this year. That hasn't always been the case. Last year I would look at teams like Alabama and Florida and LSU, and think, 'When are we going to look like those guys?' Now we do."

Robinson noted a couple of players in the secondary. He said they have asked Anthony Leon to drop weight so he can play smaller and said Leon is leaps and bounds ahead of where he was when he first got onto campus last August. He also said Isaac Madison is now 100 percent and ready to play.

Asked if defense was going to "draft" Jatashun "Big Tex" Beachum for that side of the ball, Robinson said it probably would not happen.

"He's starting off on offense," Robinson said. "He might can play on our side and there may be a day in two-a-days where we take a lot of our new players and look at them at several different spots.

"But he's been in a two-point stance mostly and for someone like that, to move him to defense and let people attack him in a three or four-point stance is a big change. It would be wrong to expect him to make that change quickly. We are going to work him on offense first."

Beachum will probably get a shot at fullback where the Hogs are down to Van Stumon and a bunch of tight ends in their multiple formations. Reports that walk-on fullback, listed second on the depth chart, Mitchell Bailey has transferred to Louisiana-Monroe are apparently true. Bailey played in 2009 and redshirted last year.

The Hogs plan to use a large contingent of tight ends -- perhaps five could play this year -- to rotate in as H-backs and fullbacks.

Horton, recruiting coordinator and running backs coach, said the coaches are as excited as the fans for this season.

"We understand the expectations and like it when the expectations are high," Horton said. "We play in a great league. We're in the second-best league in football and it's a close second to the NFL. But we feel we can compete with anyone this year. We tell our recruits to come here because it's as close as you can get to the NFL."

Horton said Arkansas will need to run the ball better this season in big games to be successful. He noted struggles in the running game against Alabama, Ole Miss and East Carolina last season. The good news is Arkansas' offensive line is the "most improved unit" on the team, the tight ends are as good as any in the SEC and the Hogs have a full stable of running backs.

However, when talk of how much the Hogs would utilize The Pistol formation to run the ball, he said that remains to be seen.

"It's a way to get the quarterback the ball and we may have quarterbacks we want to use in that sometime down the line," he said. "But the best way to utilize Ryan Mallett is to let him drop back three steps and throw it. We don't want him running the ball out of The Pistol.

"Could Tyler Wilson or Brandon Mitchell run the ball out of The Pistol? Yes, they could and you'll just have to wait and see how much we use it!"

Horton said coaches have been impressed by Garrett Uekman and Marquel Wade on the offensive side of the ball. He said Wade could be the starting punt returner when the season begins.

He also said the coaches understand the need for improvement in the kicking game and that Zach Hocker and Eddie Camara could be starters when the season begins.

Horton got the biggest laugh of the night when he said the punt return game hasn't been good at Arkansas "since I was the return man." He then tried to wipe that away, but he could be correct.

Horton was asked how the new assistant coaches fit into the program. He talked for several minutes about line coach Chris Klenakis, receivers coach Kris Cinkovich and defensive end coach Steve Caldwell and the positive results each has brought to the program.

It was announced earlier this week that graduate assistant coach Chip Long had taken a full-time slot at Illinois, joining Paul Petrino, to coach tight ends.

There has been no announcement on Long's replacement, but one source indicated that graduate assistant spot could be filled by Nick Petrino, Bobby Petrino's oldest son. Petrino worked last spring as a reserve quarterback but won't return as a player to concentrate on preparation to become a coach.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories