BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
While there is some concern with four Arkansas scholarship defensive linemen presently not practicing, there are also some newcomers prompting optimism and also good signs from an oft-injured holdover.
Former Mamuelle standout Nico Davillier has shined as a true freshman, Arkansas State transfer Terry Hampton seems like a solid pick up, Alabama transfer Drew Sanders has flashed his versatility and redshirt senior Dorian Gerald appears to trusting his health.
Those were some of the observations from Razorback head coach Sam Pittman and senior linebacker Bumper Pool after Saturday’s first preseason camp scrimmage, which was around 102 plays.
Davillier (6-5, 280) was not an early enrollee and thus was unable to go through spring practice, but has impressed in the eight practices he has been around for in August.
“Nico Davillier made some big-time plays for us today as a young guy,” Pittman said. “He is going to play for us. There ain’t going to be no redshirt. He is going to be on the field. He is a good player.”
Davillier was slated for defensive end, but moved inside due to the aforementioned injuries and was receptive to the change.
“He just wants to play,” Pittman said. “I mean, I tell you what, it goes back to … his mom and dad are great people. They’re so much fun to be around. They raised this kid big time. He’ll do whatever.
“We’ve got him on every special team. You don’t find many guys that big that are that athletic at his age. And that have a motor, and he does. I’m really high on him. I think he’s going to be really good for us.”
Hampton and senior Isaiah Nichols join Davillier as the most consistent defensive tackles with Tauren Carter, Cameron Ball, Marcus Miller and Taylor Lewis all not practicing.
“The guy I really like on the defensive line that is playing his butt off is Terry Hampton,” Pittman said. “He is playing really good football right now for us. He just shows up all the time.”
Jashaud Stewart, Zach Williams and Gerald are holdovers at defensive end while LSU transfer Landon Jackson was on hand for spring drills, albeit limited due to an injury suffered last season.
“Well, as of right now Stew’s playing the best of them, I think,” Pittman said. ” He’s gotten bigger, stronger. Zach has played really well as well. Landon Jackson’s always had a motor. I think he’s been out long enough to where he’s got to get back in football mind, shape, whatever. He’s gonna be a really good player for us.
“Then, what do you do with Nico? Because Nico’s going to play now. Nico’s a good player. So what we’ve done since Cam Ball’s been out with injury we’ve moved him inside. But I think Nico can play inside or outside. I really do. I think he’s going to be a really good player.”
Davillier and returnee Eric Gregory are both versatile enough to play both places.
“Now Eric’s 300 and Nico’s about 280,” Pittman said. “But Nico ran down a ball today now that a 280-pound guy shouldn’t be able to do.”
Pittman admitted that he got on the defensive ends, especially Georgia Tech transfer Jordan Domineck, pretty hard after a recent practice.
“I think Jordan Domineck, he had a great last 3 or 4 days,” Pittman said. ” Hejust didn’t know how to practice like we like to practice. I actually put it up in front of the team and said, “Since 1902, this is the worst D-line rep I’ve ever seen, ya know.’ I told them I went back in the archives to 1902 of every high school, every college … I was mad. But he got the hint and man he came on.”
Pittman admitted he has since made up with the defensive line after improved effort.
Gerald is entering his fourth season at Arkansas with injuries cutting his time ago just 8 games over that time period, including season-ending injuries twice after just one game in that time.
“…I think, Dorian the first four or five practices was, ‘Am I really healthy? Am I really okay? Am I really…’ you know, all this stuff. ‘I need to save myself. I’ve been hurt all these years,'” Pittman said. “And then I felt like the last three days, he just said, ‘Hey, look, it’s a physical game. I don’t know why I’ve been hurt before. I feel good now. I’m going to go play.’ He had, I don’t know, two or three sacks today and chased the ball well.”
Pool was quick to laud Alabama transfer and fellow linebacker Drew Sanders for his play in the scrimmage. He noted that Sanders had three sacks while llining up in a couple of spots.
“What we’re asking of Drew, we’re not asking a lot of other guys to do,” Pool said. “He’s going down and rushing the passer off the edge and also coming back with me and playing a standup linebacker. His skillset is so versatile that whenever he makes a mistake doing something he gets — not down on himself — but he wants to be a perfectionist.
“So (I’m) just continuing to tell him ‘Hey, listen. You’re doing so many good things. You don’t need to get down on yourself because there’s a certain mistake that you make having to go back from on the edge to back to linebacker.’ But he’s picking it up well. He’s had like seven practices so far in the fall and like every single day he’s continuing to get better. Just being his development, I’m excited for everyone to see it. But he is a very special player.”
Pool and Sanders are mentoring young linebackers like redshirt freshman Christopher “Pooh” Paul and true freshmen Jordan Crook, Mani Powell and Kaden Henley.
“It shows them how to do things correctly,” Pittman said. ” It shows them how to work on and off the field. It shows them how to run to the ball and those kind of things.
Safety Jalen Catalon did not scrimmage due to a personal issue.
“We are a little banged up in the secondary right now,” Pittman said. “Catalon had a family issue that he needed to go too. I don’t want to make anything more out of it. It is truly a family issue that he had that he needed to get back home. I would like to keep that between him and I if you would, but I wanted to tell you that he wasn’t out there.”