Defensive Line Seems to be One of Most Improved Units in Preseason

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Photo by Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE — The defensive line lost some key players from last year’s squad including McTelvin Agim, T.J. Smith, Jamario Bell and Gabe Richardson, but could be one of the team’s strengths this year.

Dorian Gerald redshirted in 2019 after suffering an injury in the season opener. Jonathan Marshall is back for his senior season and appears to be on verge of getting his first career start on Sept. 26.

Gerald and Marshall are joined on the first unit by end Julius Coates who came from a junior college while Xavier Kelly is a grad transfer from Clemson. Kelly is lining up inside next to Marshall. Arkansas’ Dalton Wagner, who plays offensive right tackle, is impressed with the line he faces each practice. He was asked about the defensive tackles since neither have ever started a college game at Arkansas?

“They’re space-eaters in there,” Wagner said of Kelly and Marshall. “You’ve got to really strain, you’ve really got to focus on your technique and your fundamentals to get those guys moved off the ball. Coach (Jamil) Walker has done a superb job getting them stronger, faster, more physical, and man, they’re going to wreck some O-lines up this year. I really believe that.”

What has Kelly done to impress you so much?

“He’s a great D-lineman,” Wagner said. “He’s going to be a superb addition for us this fall. I mean, the kid works hard every single play he’s out there. He’s really good at eating up two gaps, (does) really well at taking on those double teams. Every day we go against each other we get better and better, especially in those double teams. He shows us where our weaknesses are. We come out the next day, we fix them and he tries to find some more. It’s awesome. Iron sharpens iron, man. He’s a really good kid.”

Wagner also loves what Coates brings off the edge from his end spot.

“Julius has made us so much better at that [end] spot, man,” Wagner said. “I can’t tell you the invaluable experience he brings to us. He goes so hard every single play. Every third down, every 1-on-1 rep we’ve got, it’s unbelievable. The kid is just an animal out there. The fact that we get to go against a D-end of his caliber – Dorian, too, and all of them – they make us so much better every single day. And Coates, he’s just big, strong, fast and he’s really good with his hands, too. He’s a great kid.”

At his weekly radio show on Wednesday night from the Catfish Hole, Sam Pittman provided an update on the defensive line.

“The defensive line won the second scrimmage,” Pittman said. “They didn’t the first scrimmage but on a daily basis they are hard to block for us. Dorian Gerald is back and has some speed. Julius  Coates is a big, athletic guy.  A guy that has been really impressive ls Jonathan Marshall. He’s a quick, big guy that is  versatile guy.  Eric Gregory has had a really good. camp. Zach Williams is another guy that can rush the passer. Isaiah Nichols is a guy that can play a lot of places and we’ve been pleases with Xavier Kelly. He is a huge, muscular guy that can run that transferred in here.

“Taurean Carter has had a good camp as well. When i got there I didn’t know if we would walk out here and look like a SEC football team on the front. With Jamil Walker’s work and his staff in the weightroom and us putting a premium on trying to get thicker, trying to get bigger they certainly have. And it hasn’t seemed to messed with their mobility. I don’t know if I mentioned (Mataio) Soli but he  has had a really good camp as well. He’s a fast kid that has played extremely hard.”

Arkansas will practice tonight at 7 p.m.

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