FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ Barry Odom is set to begin his third season as coordinator of the defense and wants his defensive line to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
That is something they have done this spring and continue to work on it. Odom spoke with the media on Saturday following the ninth practice of the spring.
“I don’t know, I have to look after today’s practice,” Odom said. “Some of it’s scripted, and then some of it we just call it like it would be a game. So there’s some things that I’m calling pressure-wise that I probably never would in a game, but I want to get it on tape. Against a look that I’m talking about, a specific look. So I’m trying to get it on film to be able to teach off of it, because after spring ball is over, we’ve still got time with our kids in the classroom. We can sit down and talk and teach, and they’ve got to understand. So we’re calling a number of things now to get them on tape to be able to understand, and then it’s also to find out who is our best blitzer. Who is our four-down look? Who is the maybe the best edge rusher? Can we get him singled up on a one-on-one block? So we’ve thrown a lot at them. And I think this is the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve been able to do that because it’s the returners that we have. They understand what we have called previously, and now we have the ability to build on that. It makes it pretty exciting. So we’ve done a number of different things pressure-wise, and we’ve got a whole another package coming next week. So I’m excited about see where we can go with it.”
Sam Pittman has continued to praise Isaiah Nichols and Taurean Carter this spring. They are both on the inside when the Hogs go to a four-man front.
“Yeah, I think Deke Adams has done a really good job with that group,” Odom said. “You know, the times that he’s had them now in the meeting room and then on the field and how they’ve taken that information and then processed it and then got to a live situation and able to go execute it. I think some of that goes with Taurean and Isaiah, they’ve got a number of reps with real game experience which has helped them. Zach Williams keeps coming. Eric Gregory, it doesn’t show up as much in the stat sheet, but man he’s really solid and has been a good player for us inside.”
Beyond that group though Odom praised some others.
“Cam Ball is coming on and doing a lot of really good things,” Odom said. “Jashaud Stewart, in my opinion, has probably had his best period of practices back to back, consistency-wise so I think he’s getting an understanding of what we need out of him in that role. Collectively as a group, whatever front we’re in, whatever defense we’re in, I think they’ve made strides, maybe more than any other group in my opinion right now through nine practices – at least on the defensive side.”
Odom also is quick to credit Jamil Walker for the work he has done with Ball and the linemen in the weight room.
“Both of those guys, Cam, a young kid and Isaiah, lot of reps,” Odom said. “Both of them have upped their game in the last since we started compared to where they left off last season and where they are today. And just like every player in the program should, you’d better be better today than after we beat Penn State. That’s just the way that it goes. Cam Ball didn’t play that much last year, I don’t know, maybe whether he redshirted or not, but he has a number of years left. But with Jamil Walker and his staff in the weight room he has transformed our guys. He has transformed them into bigger, faster, quicker, meaner, tougher. Anything you can look at, Jamil and his staff have done an unbelievable job. And Cam has been a guy that has stood in there and he kept his head down and he’s learned and he’s been able to go play fast.
“Isaiah, the same thing. He’s running with the ones, the twos, the threes, we’re rotating so many guys in there. And Isaiah has probably had the most productive. He and Taurean Carter of any interior defensive linemen so far this spring. He’s playing with great on snap footwork, great eye discipline, great hand placement. And he’s playing at a high level. So we’ve got to continue to work at that. Because if you’re not good inside up front, then I don’t care how good you are on the back end or linebacker or whatever. That’s why Ridgeway was so important last year. Because he’s just a beast inside. He took up a lot of times two guys and filled up space. Those guys inside, Taurean and Cam and Isaiah, it’s so important that we get some things solidified there with those three guys that we feel comfortable on how we’re playing everywhere else. So they’ve done a nice job and they’ve got to keep coming, keep pressing.”
One of Odom’s philosophies on defense has been the six-second warriors. Odom explained where he got that aspect of the game from and what it’s designed to do.
“Yeah, that’s been developed for – and you know everybody’s gonna be mad when I say this – because the guy that I got it from was a guy I worked for forever in Gary Pinkel,” Odom said. “That was his bottom line on how he established the foundational aspects of the program from Toledo and then when he was at Missouri, and it works. You look at if you take the game of football, and it’s four quarters, but it’s also if you can get it down to playing six seconds at a time and knowing what you’re doing, and playing with relentless energy and effort and those things. So I’m trying to get that message across to our team every single day. Every time we have a unit meeting, that’s as big and as bold as we can get it on the screen just because I’ve seen it work, it worked for us last year. The great thing about when you play hard and you play harder than your opponent, and you do it for longer, you’re gonna put yourselves in position to play winning football.
“One of our goals is to eliminate explosive plays, and one way that you can do that is number one, you’ve gotta understand what you’re doing, so we’ve gotta be great teachers and they’ve gotta be great learners. But also, don’t put your kids in a position to do something that they can’t do. I mean it’s pretty simple, you know? Don’t ask them to go be a great blitzer if they’re not a really good blitzer. You’ve gotta teach them to find out what they can do, but you also look, if you play hard and you play as hard as you can play for six seconds, okay. From the time the ball is snapped until the whistle blows, you’re gonna give yourself and your defense a chance to play winning football. Somebody may go and miss a tackle, but if you’ve got 10 other guys running to the ball then you’re gonna keep that from going to an explosive play so it all ties together. It’s just an easy way for our guys to remember it, and it shows up every day on film. And the great thing right now, just like it started last year, our team defensively is running that. So if you don’t run hard to the ball, then you’ve got about four, five, six, seven, eight, nine guys in the defensive room, you’re on full display and they’re calling the guy out, so it’s more player-led at this point and that speaks to the culture of what coach Pittman has recruited to – the culture that we’ve got at our program and it’s pretty exciting to be a part of.”
More help is on the way on the defensive line. Landon Jackson transferred in from LSU, but hasn’t been able to practice this spring while rehabbing an injury. Georgia Tech defensive end Jordan Domineck is slated to arrive early summer.
“Now I knew about Landon when he was in high school and I recruited him tried to get him hard,” Odom said. “So I’ve known he and his family for now a couple years because of the relationship that goes back to when he was in high school comes from a great program in in Texarkana and Pleasant Grove and you know they I think they won they at least one championship maybe two when he was a player there was coached really well in that program, but also he’s got a unique skill talent. He’s six he maybe 6’7” I mean I don’t know what we list him at least 6’6 and some change for sure, 275 got great explosion on what I know about him go anxious to getting back on the field but also know that you know we’re not trying to rush it and understand that he’s really number one, be able to provide depth and I think he’s got the ability to be an edge rusher which we need and we got guys in there Eric Thomas that’s done a nice job, Zach Williams and Jashaud Stewart you know we we’ve got to get another guy in there just from the rotation standpoint and hopefully Landon can step in and do that for us.”
Arkansas will hold an open scrimmage on Saturday at 11 a.m.