A new coach will head the football program at Arkansas this fall, but the big question is will the defense really be the strength of this year's football team.
Chris Smith is expected to be one of the leaders of Arkansas' defense this fall.
In the days of Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Matt Jones, Bobby Petrino, Ryan Mallett, Tyler Wilson, Cobi Hamilton and........OK, you get the drift. The offense has normally been pretty good at Arkansas in recent years, but the defense not so good.
Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema has hired some very good offensive coaches for his staff, but judging by the roster the defense could be what is the strength of this fall's football team. Arkansas has hired Chris Ash to head the defense and how well that unit plays this fall may be determine how much success Bielema's first team has.
The defensive line has a chance to be pretty solid. Senior Chris Smith and junior Trey Flowers returns at the end slots. Inside, Arkansas will have seniors Byran Jones and Robert Thomas. That is a very good front four, but the question will be how good will the backups be?
At end, Arkansas should be in good shape with senior Austin Flynn, as long as he is allowed back on the team following a recent DWI arrest, and a talented group of freshmen signed last year. JaMichael Winston, Brandon Lewis, Deatrich Wise and Taiwan Johnson should have a bright future. Inside, Charlie Partridge will use the spring to see what some unproven players can do to help the team. Players such as sophomore Horace Arkadie, freshman Darius Philon, sophomore Demarcus Hodge and others will be given their first real opportunity at playing since arriving at Arkansas.
At linebacker, Randy Shannon inherits a talented pair of sophomores in A.J. Turner and Otha Peters. The two started at various times this past season as true freshmen. Yes, they made mistakes at times, but they also made some nice plays many times as well.
Bielema took some steps as far as shoring up the depth at linebacker. He signed juniors Myke Tavarres and Martrell Spaight from junior college to help immediately. True freshman Brooks Ellis is also very talented and could help immediately. Senior Jarrett Lake returns as does junior Braylon Mitchell, junior Daunte Carr and senior Robert Atiga.
At cornerback, Arkansas could actually be pretty good. Junior Tevin Mitchel and sophomore Will Hines return as starters and 4-star JUCO transfer Carroll Washington is also now in the picture this spring. In addition, Arkansas was able to resdshirt Ray Buchanan and Jared Collins last season. Sophomore Davyon McKinney saw a lot of action last year, but will he remain at cornerback or move to safety or even back to wide receiver? He was actually signed by former coach Bobby Petrino to be a wide receiver here.
At safety, senior Eric Bennett and sophomore Rohan Gaines will return. Bielema went out and signed Tiquention Coleman from Georgia Military College to help as well. Talented sophomore Defonta Lowe was wasted on special teams last season, but has a lot of ability. Junior Alan Turner also played a lot last season. Jerry Mitchell will be a senior and has been a key member of the special teams as well as spot duty at safety.
Arkansas also signed 3-star defensive end Tevin Beanum, 3-star defensive tackle Ke'Tyrus Marks, composite 3-star safety Deandre Coley and 3-star cornerback D.J. Dean, but given Bielema's urge to try and redshirt players those four may have to wait a year to get on the field.
Overall, the defense closed the season with a good showing against LSU. While last year's defense was a huge disappointment and train wreck at times much like the entire season, Ash doesn't inherit an empty cupboard. He will need some breaks for the unit to be a good one, but at least it appears Arkansas is improving in that area.