FAYETTEVILLE — Barry Odom is the University of Arkansas’ new defensive coordinator and is anxious to see his group practice in pads.
Odom along with Sam Pittman and Kendal Briles participated in a Zoom conference with beat reporters on Friday. Odom and the Razorbacks will hit the practice field on Monday. Odom talked about what he will be looking for on Monday and now that they can put on pads.
“Haven’t seen our guys in pads, so there’s a lot of question marks there on what we’ll look like, how we’ll react,” Odom said. “It’s hard to sit here and say it, but we’re going to give up a touchdown sometime next week, would be my guess. How are we going to react to that? What’s our mental focus to be able to put that play behind us and play the next snap? What’s that look like? We have done a lot of talking, and they’ve put in a lot of work, but let’s go put it into action and see how we respond. Let’s see how well we can play together and communicate.
“Really, the elementary focus of playing defensive football. You want to try to get the ball back, eliminate explosive plays, you want to be a really good tackling team. We’re not going to be tackling this first week, obviously. But also the physicality that it takes in this league is a different standard. So, we’ll be able to see some of that early on, and I look forward to that.”
Much has been made about the type defense that Odom will use. He talked about what his base defense on Monday could look like.
“I think if you look back, more than anything in my history, especially specifically when I was a coordinator, I’ve been very multiple every place that I’ve been in every year, and that won’t change this year,” Odom said. “We’ve already got the scripts done for Monday at least defensively. We’ll have a four-down look, but within that first series we’ll be able to get into a number of different looks with those guys. It’ll be interchanging. We’ve got so many competitive battles going on across the board. I think a lot of that will end up dictating what we call our base defense. But right now, from an even to an odd front, you’d like to be able to do both of those with what we’re seeing matching personnel, down and distance, field position. There’s a lot of different ways we can get to the structure both with an odd and even front and, more than anything, trying to be multiple and staying ahead of what we’re getting on the other side.”
Arkansas in recent years has lacked consistency on defense. That is something Odom is attempting to change and talked about how he tries to teach consistency on that side of the football.
“It comes down to great preparation and habits,” Odom said. “You have to make sure that throughout the week. The game typically there’s a lot of deciding going on in the game on how you prepare Sunday through the time the ball is kicked off. If you have poor habits and you don’t prepare the right way and you’re not absolutely on point in every area, it’s going to get exposed really quickly. More than anything, our habits, our film study, the preparation we have throughout the week will give us an opportunity to line up and go play.
“Then the understanding I have to make it simple enough for our team and be a good enough teacher, along with our defensive staff, that we put our guys in position that they can go play fast. They have an understanding on where they have help, where they don’t, when they can take their shots, when they can’t. But collectively playing 11 guys playing with great speed, energy, passion, effort, getting to the ball, trying to eliminate explosive plays and finding ways to get the ball back for our offense. Those are things we have to continue to focus on and build on.
“Also, the understanding of the mental toughness that it takes throughout the course of a four quarter game to withstand. The other team is going to have good players. They are going to make some plays. I am going to make some bad calls, and our guys have to make me right. It’s the trust in each other, but also knowing that happens throughout the week and it’s been building since January for us, and it’s going to continue.”
One of the more experienced players returning for Arkansas this fall on defense will be safety Joe Foucha. The junior was third-leading tackler in 2019. He finished with 87 tackles, including 44 solo, one for loss, an interception, four pass breakups, one quarterback hurry and recovered a fumble. Odom expects a lot from Foucha.
“Joe has got a unique skill set because he’s got tremendous speed and he’s quick, but also he played quite a bit last year, so he’s got a little bit of experience,” Odom said. “But I also look at the things you can do with Joe in coverage. You can move him down and put him in the run fit – in the box, so to speak – because he’s multiple enough and has enough skill-set to him in the pass game and run game that you can line him up in a bunch of different spots.
“We’ve got to continue to work to make sure that he’s going into practice No. 1. I’m anxious for those guys, really, to see how they fit in everything we’re trying to do on the field against … at some point we’re going to get a ball in the air and be able to see how we go work pass defense and some of those things. Joe has got, for a young player, he’s got some football savvy to him, football IQ is high and he’s done a really good job of picking up what I’m asking him to do at that spot.”
Odom likes the improvement he has seen in the defensive line since coming in January. He feels the unit has a chance to be a good one.
“I’m excited about, defensively, the way that they’ve handled from January until today,” Odom said. “There’s been lots of ups and downs. There’s been some uncertainty at times, but not for the team. They’ve been laser-like focused, they’ve kept blinders on, and they’ve really done everything that we’ve asked them to do. That group specifically, you look at some of the weight gains we’ve had, some of the strength gains we’ve had in the weight room, I can’t give enough credit to Jamil Walker and his staff in the weight room really transforming some of those guys, especially up front.
“It was a group that we didn’t know a lot about like a lot of the position groups. I did think when we walked into the door, watching us early in January and February, I thought we had some speed on defense. I didn’t know about up front how we would hold up because of physically where we were at that time, but they’ve made a lot of ground up. We’ve still got a long ways to go, but I would echo the same thing that coach said. It’s a group that has surprised me – in a good way. Now, we also, I want to caution, we have plenty of work to do, but they have done a really nice the last couple months trying to get SEC ready.”
One addition to the defensive line is true freshman Blayne Toll. He was recruited to play defensive end, but switched to tight end, but now is back on defense. Odom is pleased to have him back.’
“It speaks volumes really about the type of person area really character and care for Arkansas now what Blayne has done,” Odom said. “You know when Coach (Pittman) approached him about moving over to helping us out at tight end, he said that ‘I will do whatever I can for this team and this program,’ which is awesome. You don’t find that much, especially with a freshman. He did it and he went and dove in and was doing a great job on that side of the ball from everything that I had heard.
“But then it looked like he could really go in and have a chance to help us in some situations on the defensive side and they got some things cleared up offensively and allowed that to happen. He has done, in what have been able to see, a tremendous job. He has a great motor and I think has a huge upside on what he is going top become as a player. He is hungry to be good and right now, and we have been in walk throughs, he has picked up what we are trying to do schematically at really a high speed.
“He has got a lot of skills, just natural skills and since he has been here since January he has done a great job with Jamil (Walker) and his staff in the weight room.”
One issue with the defense other than lack of consistency has been tackling. Odom talked about how he teaches tackling.
“There’s a number of ways,” Odom said. “The best way to continue to become a better tackling team is to understand how you can play fast and understanding the defense. I don’t know the last time you’ve seen a true, pure, how you teach a form tackle. Most of the tackles happen when you’re playing your leverage point, you’re using the angles correctly, you’re pressing the line of scrimmage, you’ve got two guys that are vicing the ball. Everything that we try to do in our individual drills. Whether it’s form tackling in our one-on-one. Whether it’s pass coverage. Whether it’s rushing the passer. Everything that we’re trying to structure in our individual drills should look exactly like what our guys at that position would do on game day. Then get them drilled so much that it’s repetition and it becomes monotonous, but that’s when you start making up positive ground. When you go out and the habits become so natural that that’s how you play, and that is the DNA of your defense.
“Tackling is obviously something to anyone that watches a game, that they could say they’re either a good tackling team or they’re not. It doesn’t take a lot of football experience to notice that. I know that the greatest teams that I’ve been on in terms of playing team defense have been really good tackling teams. We have to make sure that we’re smart with how we do that, like coach is talking about. I want to make sure that we get our best guys to the first game, so you have to make sure that you’re smart in how you practice. We’ve got a group of guys defensively on the staff. We feel like we have a good idea on how to approach that. We haven’t been in pads. It’ll be interesting how we withstand some of the physical nature of what it takes. Again, we have to be great teachers. Whether it’s how to tackle, how to run the zone blitz, whether it’s how to play Tampa 2, we have to do a great job on teaching our kids how to play and how to play fast.”
Arkansas returns several key players on defense in addition to Foucha.