State of the Hogs: A Real Linebacker?
After the last interview was finished, a couple of writers were leaving the ground floor of the Broyles Center where a mini photo shoot was taking place. Quinton Caver, now a student coach, was standing with brand new Arkansas linebacker Anthony Leon. Members of Leon's family were snapping shots.
One reporter said to the other, "That's a real linebacker," pointing to Caver. Who knows, maybe Leon is a real linebacker, too.
Aside from getting 10 freshmen on video while playing the entire three deep, the best news from the 44-3 victory over Tennessee Tech had to be the play of Leon. Lacking as a safety, Leon was effective in his first start at weakside linebacker. He recorded eight tackles, four for lost yardage and two quarterback sacks.
"I thought he played well," defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said of the former junior college transfer. "He caught your eye, too? That's one of the first things (linebacker coach) Reggie Johnson and I talked about after the game. He thought the same thing."
Leon moved to linebacker midway through fall camp. That enabled Jerry Franklin to move from weakside to middle linebacker.
"I thought Leon and Franklin made a nice combination out there tonight," Robinson said. "I thought we looked pretty good as a defense."
Head coach Bobby Petrino said he wasn't surprised by Leon's play. He said coaches talked about making the move during the summer.
"We looked at video of him when he came down in the box at safety and his instincts were good," Petrino said. "No, I wasn't surprised at the way he played because that's how he's practiced. He reads his keys. He makes plays and looks. The minute he stepped in at linebacker it was wooo and wow. You saw the instincts. He takes on blockers."
Leon was all smiles in the interview room.
"I did alright," he said. "I missed a couple of tackles and I might have missed a read or two. But it was alright.
"I just want to be a part of the team, help the guys and be a part of victories. I probably am still a safety at heart, but I'm liking linebacker. I give a lot of credit to the other linebackers like Jerry Franklin and Freddy Burton. They help me every day learn my position and the calls."
Leon's first big play came on a third-and-goal roll out pass, a sack to force a field goal.
"I had the back man-to-man, but he stayed in to block," Leon said. "The coaches teach me to add on. So when he stayed in, I went after the quarterback. The second sack was a little trick and I just came free.
"The main thing, I just tried to have fun. I think we all had fun tonight."
Defensive end Jake Bequette broke into a smile when he was asked about Leon.
"We all told him not to worry about any of the mistakes he'd made in practice in learning the position," Bequette said. "He's had two weeks so it's an amazing story. We told him just to cut it loose tonight and he really did that. He made plays."
Robinson was pleased with the performance of his defense. He said it's the best in his three years at Arkansas.
"We've got more experience," he said. "It's the maturity that makes a difference. I think we have a great understanding of what we are trying to get done. Again, I thought we looked pretty good.
"Was it perfect? No. But we responded to an opponent. We had only practiced against ourselves and there were some things that team did in the option that are tough to simulate and require discipline. I thought we responded to those things."
The offense sparkled at times, but both Petrino and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee pointed to a sputtering run game and some missed opportunities to start the game and with the backups in the fourth quarter.
"The offense struggled at times," Petrino said. "We threw and caught it well. I do like the way we came out of the locker room. We are not satisfied with the three turnovers."
Ryan Mallett completed 21 of 24 passes 301 yards, but not everything clicked.
"We made mistakes early," McGee said. "We were not efficient. I think there were times early where he was spending too much time trying to see what they were doing, instead of just going with the play that was called and forcing tempo.
"He was trying to make checks instead of just getting our line to hit them in the face and go with it. He changed a couple of plays that we should have run and he missed a couple of pressures.
"You cringe when a quarterback misses a pressure. There were a couple of times that he went to the wrong side."
There was a fourth-and-1 that blew up when D. J. Williams jumped.
"D. J. thought one of their defensive lineman was yelling our cadence," McGee said. "You'd like to see two of your captains, D. J. and Ryan, not make those kinds of mistakes.
"The other area we were not happy about was the way we ran it early. We got after them at halftime pretty good. We were not happy with the tempo and didn't think we were hungry enough in the running game.
"But the main thing, we were happy in the locker room. A lot of folks got to play. We sang the fight song. When we get to sing the fight song in the locker room, it's a good day."
Then there was that photo shoot afterward.
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