FAYETTEVILLE — Chad Morris once called Jalen Catalon one of the five best high school recruits he had ever seen.
Unfortunately for Arkansas, Catalon’s freshman season was cut short by injuries and also seemingly the reluctance by the former staff to play him when he was healthy. In fairness to last year’s coaches, they did have junior Kam Curl at one of the safeties and he’s now in the NFL.
But Catalon battled a knee injury earlier in preseason, however he has bounced back healthy now and scrimmaged on Friday.
“The knee is doing good,” Catalon said. “Physically I’m feeling great. Just glad I’m back there with my guys and working hard just being back doing what I love. I’m tired right now but overall I’m feeling pretty good. My body and all that I’m just ready to get out and get after it again next week.”
Considering you have had some issues with injuries did you become worried when you hurt the knee?
“With my faith, I left it in God’s hands,” Catalon said. “I said I trust Him, I know He has a plan and I know I’m going to follow it. So I did that and found out it wasn’t as serious as I thought it was going to be. It ended up being minor and I was able to get back in a week and be out there to ball again. I give it to my training staff, as well, for taking really good care of me, making sure I was here for my treatments every single day and really doing a great job of getting me back to 100 percent and being back on the field as healthy and explosive as I can be. Hats off to them too.
“But I wasn’t really too worried. I think once I realized I was able to walk still and all that, I was good. So I wasn’t too worried. I took the precautions that I needed to be able to get back and I was able to get back within a week and a half span. I’m blessed and I’m glad I’m going to be back on the field and glad I’m back to balling with my brothers.”
Catalon and the defense dominated Friday’s scrimmage one week after the offense had its way against them.
“I think it really heightens us up a lot,” Catalon said. “It gives us a lot of confidence. You know after last week’s scrimmage I don’t think we were at our best performance. So I think from the start we came in making a statement that you know we were setting a standard for our defense.
“Coach (Barry) Odom always talks about our bottom line which is knowing our assignments, having energy and enthusiasm and being tough and physical and I think today we did. We just played really hard and we strained. That’s all we talk about is strain and play hard. We made a lot of plays. I’m just proud of our defense. The D-line, linebackers and defensive backs played really hard. It was just a great day for defense for sure.”
Catalon recovered a fumble that Joe Foucha knocked loose during the scrimmage. He talked about that play as well.
“I really can’t recall,” Catalon said. “All I know is that Joe came and hit it and the ball is on the ground and I rolled over and got it. So I can’t really remember who was running it or what happened or anything like that but I just know that Joe made a big hit and the ball is on the ground and I just recovered it. And that’s what happened. It was a really good play for the defense and Joe brought the boom and recovered the ball. It was a good play by Joe and it was a great play by the defense for straining and doing their part. So I’m proud of Joe and proud of the defense.”
Catalon and the other players are learning more than one position in the secondary. Odom said that is something he has done previously and certainly now with the COVID-19 happenings.
“I’ve always done that,” Odom said. “I think it’s important that I don’t ever want to label a guy just a corner or just a safety because there are so many sub packages that we have defensively. We’re going to line them up in a number of different roles. So, I think it’s important they understand what the other four guys or three guys on the field are doing depending on what we have on the field. So, we’ve done a lot of that. We’ve done it my entire career, and one thing I think is important is, and I think in this season it’s maybe more valuable than ever, that a guy can play multiple positions.”
Catalon talked about the need to be versatile.
“Yeah, Coach wants us to know all of the positions because you never what’s going to happen, especially a situation now with this COVID situation,” Catalon said. “You never know. A guy might get knocked down with COVID and you got to play this position, or next week you might have to play this position. So, he really emphasized that everybody know all the positions because you never know what’s going to happen. So, I feel like as a group, everyone know what’s their doing at every position.
“I feel like everyone’s playing every position. You can play middle safety. You might play wider safety one day. You might end up playing strong safety one day. You might end up playing nickel, or a nickel wind end up playing corner. It just all depends. It’s what he really emphasized that our defense can be flexible, and we need to be flexible guys. We have to make sure we know our whole defense inside-out, because you never know what’s going to happen and you never know where you’re end up playing at. So, you need to make sure you know it all. He’s doing a really great job of really breaking down a defense so that we understand it and play at a high level. I’m just glad to have him as my DC for sure because he holds accountable and he really teaches the stuff. So, glad to have him.”
Is there a younger player like you were last season who has really caught your eye?
“Myles Slusher is a baller,” Catalon said. “I mean, he picks — you can tell he knows the game. You can tell he’s only played the game for so long and that’s him. He knows the game and stuff like that. Every day you can see him progress and get better and better each day. Also Jacorrei Turner is doing a great job for us in that nickel spot. You can see his progression also every single day. And, I mean, today I saw him stride to the next level with him playing. There’s great things down the road for him and also Myles.
“I’m just glad they’re on our defense and, you know, make sure they’re good every single day. They have questions they can ask me and things like that, take them under my wing. But as far as them being here for as long as they have, they picked up on everything really fast and you can tell they know the game and are playing at a high level. So, proud of those guys as well, and happy to have them on our team.”
This entire season is now three week’s away from starting, but the path to getting here to this point has been anything but normal. What is the team’s mindset?
“I think everyone knows the goal that we have, and that’s to get to Georgia with as many guys as we can,” Catalon said. “So, Coach always stressed that we’re grown men. So, as I said, do we want to play Georgia or do we not. So, I think everyone sacrificing that and making sure that they take the precautions needed so that we can get to that game with as many as we can. And I think we’re doing a great job in situations as far as leading and making sure everybody’s masked up in the building and outside the building and making sure we stay six feet apart as much as possible and making sure we clean our area.
“So, I feel like everyone is locked in and knows everybody has a goal. And the goal is to get to game one with everyone and I’m just proud of the steps that we’ve taken from day one to now, and I feel like we handled the situation really well as a team. I feel like the coaches have done a great job of emphasizing keeping everything safe and keeping everything clean. And the facility staff is doing a great job of making sure everything is cleaned up, everything is sanitized down from top to bottom. So, it’s a really safe place here and I enjoy it.”
Arkansas will kickoff at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26, in Reynolds Razorback Stadium against Georgia.