FAYETTEVILLE — Jonathan Marshall is on track to be one of the defensive line starters when the University of Arkansas opens its season on Saturday, Sept. 26.
Marshall, 6-3, 317, has been a key member of Arkansas’ defense since signing with them out of Shepherd (Texas) High School in the Class of 2016, but he has never started a game. That is very likely to change this season. He and Xavier Kelly are running first team inside with Justin Coates and Dorian Gerald at the ends. He feels he has the talent to show what he can do this season as a starter.
“Yes, sir,” Marshall said. “I’m putting in the work ethic to get there. So, I am pretty sure I can do that.”
As a junior, Marshall played in all 12 games. He finished with 17 tackles, eight solo, 4.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sack, three quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. Following Monday’s practice Marshall talked about how the preseason camp has been for him.
“Camp has been going pretty well,” Marshall said. “I’ve been doing everything I can for me and to make this team the best we can be.”
Coates signed with Arkansas from junior college and Kelly is a grad transfer from Clemson. Both have impressed Marshall.
“Both of them great guys and both of them are both freakish athletes,” Marshall said. “You have Julius and Xavier. You know Julius is pushing 300 and running as fast as everyone else. Xavier is very explosive. He’s gonna be good for us.”
Arkansas needs Marshall, Kelly and others to step up inside since McTelvin Agim and T.j. Smith were both seniors last fall.
“Yes, sir,” Marshall said. “With Sosa and TJ Smith, they were older. Me and Sosa came in together, but with them older than I am, it really plays a big factor with me trying to fill their shoes, basically.”
Arkansas also has some talented players behind the four starters. What does this unit have to do to force more turnovers and create more havoc for opposing offenses?
“Right now Coach (Barry) Odom got a good thing set up for us to go so we just follow his gameplan he has set up we will create all those TFLs, sacks and stuff more often,” Marshall said.
Sam Pittman has said at times the defensive line has been a pleasant surprise. Are you surprised how good this unit has looked so far?
“No surprise at all,” Marshall said. “We’ve all been working hard in the off-season to get where we are now. No surprise at all. We all knew what we had to do to perform how we perform.”
Marshall welcomes the high expectations for the defensive line.
“For myself, I feel like it’s going to be good in however, whatever everybody playing around me,” Marshall said. “But as a D-line, I make them better, they make me better. So, it’s involved. We all make each other better as it goes on.”
Marshall talked about the depth behind him and Kelly on the inside.
“Isaiah (Nichols), it was me and him last year,” Marshall said. “So, I feel like he’s a great player, also. He’s good, great guy, great player. Enoch (Jackson), I would point out Enoch. A great player, also. TC (Taurean Carter) and Bubba (Marcus Miller), and we’ve got the freshman we’re trying to bring along, Andy Boykin. They’re all great athletes.”
Former Arkansas strength and conditioning coach Trumain Carroll said Marshall was the strongest player he has ever been around. Marshall said now he has some competition for that spot.
“It still stands true, but as of right now, I think I’m going to say Beaux Limmer,” Marshall said. “Me and him standing toe to toe in the weight room right now.”
Do you face Limmer, who has spent a lot of time at right guard this preseason, some in practice and if so how do those battles go?
“Beaux Limmer, he’s good,” Marshall said. “He’s very good. We have gone against each other. He’s gotten me a few plays, I’ve gotten him a few plays. It goes back and forth.”
For the third year in a row the defensive line has a different coach for the tackles. Pittman hired Derrick LeBlanc away from Kentucky. He has impressed Marshall.
“Coach LeBlanc, great coach, amazing,” Marshall said. “He’s laid back, chill, all of that. It’s been really good working with him.”
Marshall pointed to a junior cornerback as the leader of the defense. He also admitted he’s doing a better job of being a leader too.
“I would say Montaric Brown,” Marshall said. “He’s a leader on the defense right now. He’s the one that’s speaking up. He’s doing a great job.
“I feel like a leader now, it’s coming in there. I’ve gotta work on my leadership skills a little bit more. Everything else is good.”
Arkansas will return to the practice fields today.