FAYETTEVILLE — Redshirt sophomore Jalen Catalon is generally recognized as one of the top safeties in the nation.
Catalon, 5-10, 200, was a first-team All-SEC (AP) as a redshirt freshman. He played in all 10 games including nine starts finishing with 99 tackles, including 51 solo, two for loss, forced two fumbles, recovered one, three interceptions and seven pass breakups. The one game he didn’t start was due to a penalty he got in the LSU game so he had to sit out the first half at Missouri.
Following Saturday’s scrimmage, Catalon talked about how the defense performed.
“Defensive wise, Malik Chavis had an interception off a tipped ball,” Catalon said. “So he was in position for that. And Busta (Montaric Brown) came off the edge and had a great play which forced a fumble. So that was good.”
Sam Pittman was unhappy with the number of penalties on Saturday. Catalon reflected back on the defensive ones.
“A couple of holding calls,” Catalon said. “A couple of offside penalties that we can’t have as a defense. But as a first scrimmage, I’d rather get those out now than to have them in a game where they’re crucial. I’m not saying in the scrimmage it’s acceptable, but I think we’ll definitely learn from all the mistakes that we had today and clean them up. I think in fall camp moving forward, the second scrimmage will be a lot smoother.”
“Besides the penalties, like I said the offsides and holding calls, I think the defense played really well today.”
One change on defense so far this preseason, even last spring, has been more 4-man fronts than last season when Arkansas used a 3-man the majority of the time.
“I think that’s what makes our defense really good is that we’re able to go 4-front or 3-front,” Catalon said. ” Just kind of whatever you want to do. So I know Coach has emphasized we’re going to do all these different things so we’ve got to be ready because we’ve got to keep offenses off their toes. So we don’t want to be here and just stick to one thing. We want to be flexible. And I think our defense has shown a good job for doing that.
“The D-line especially to do the different things up front and get back to the quarterback, and the linebackers being able to read the holes and plug them up and the back end just the communication we have for one to another. Not just the ones, the twos and threes are coming along as well I’ve always said you are only as good as your backups. And I think they have done a good job as well. I think our defense has been solid throughout fall camp and we just got to keep it going.”
Catalon was asked if any of the younger defensive backs have impressed him?
“Jayden Johnson, he came down and had some really good hits today,” Catalon said. “His classification (freshman), but I don’t think he’s that young. He’s grown so much. Myles Slusher keeps showing up. Keuan Parker’s also doing really good at nickel. He’s coming really well, and understanding the defense really well. There are a lot of young guys I could mention that are doing well, but those guys are the ones that kind of catch my eye when I watch them.”
Defensive end Tre Williams came from Missouri and has turned some heads at the Arkansas practices. Pittman praised Williams for his performance and Catalon went more into detail about it.
“I’ve seen his work ethic since he first got in here and I could just tell that he was going to be a big key for our D-linemen and for the defense,” Catalon said. “He’s my roommate, so it definitely helps out to build that bond with him as well. He’s a great defensive player and he just brings havoc to the quarterback. He keeps them on their toes. I can always see the ball coming out quick because he’s always back there.
“And it isn’t just him. The whole D-line has done a great job. You can go down from the interior to Markell (Utsey) to Jashaud Stewart. And then you’ve got D.G. (Dorian Gerald) also making plays, and Eric Gregory, Zach Williams. You can name them all. The D-line has done a phenomenal job and helped us out a lot.”
Catalon had to miss some action at times last fall for targeting calls, some of which were very questionable. Despite that he said he isn’t changing his game.
“The one thing I’ve always lived by was never live with any regret,” Catalon said. “The one regret I will have is if I don’t give it my 100, so however I’m going, that’s how I’m going to go. At the end of the day I’ve got to live with the decision, but of course coach told me I’ve got to be a little smarter and understand different situations I can put myself in to not be there to have to make that. But at the end of the day, it’s football. You’ve got to play. You can’t play 50-50. That’s how you get hurt out there and how you hurt yourself, so you’ve just got to go out and play and let everything else fall the way it’s supposed to fall.
“I know for a fact that I’m not going to stop doing what I’m doing. If I see an opportunity to go hit somebody, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to live with the results at the end of the day, but we do a great job of technique as well so we know we’re tackling the right way. I can only do part. Whatever happens after that, I can’t control that.”
Devin Bush was in the same recruiting class as Catalon. He hasn’t had near the success of Catalon so far, but seems to be making some key progress this preseason. He even has worked some with the second unit. What has been the difference?
“I would say his maturity,” Catalon said. “I think he’s understood how vital he is to our back end. He’s stepped up really well and made some plays here and there. I can see him getting better each and every day. He likes to ask me questions like, ‘What do I need to do here? What can I do here?’ I don’t really play corner, but to help him on schemes and different things to look at, I can help him out with that. But he’s always in there asking questions and he’s always wanting to get better each and every day. I think the coaches see that and respect that. That’s a name to watch out for, for sure, because he’s definitely going to be a vital piece for us in the back end of our defense.”
The Razorbacks will return to the practice fields this afternoon.