Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said earlier this month the Razorbacks would make it a point to not move too quickly for players as they began to install their plans for the program on the practice field this spring.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney echoed the message on Tuesday, when he said the staff was being patient with players while they taught them a new “foreign language.” So it’s no surprise defensive coordinator Chris Ash said the Razorbacks were following the same principles on his side of the ball Thursday.
“We’ve gone very slow with our installation on defense,” Ash said Thursday. “For us, it’s not going to be about volume here this spring. It’s going to be about teaching and learning. We want these guys, when they come out spring, to be good at something, and we want that to be fundamentals and mental understanding of what we’re trying to get done. And then once we have a base, then we can start to build on that foundation. That’s really what we’re trying to get done this spring.”
Arkansas completed its fifth practice session on Thursday and Ash said defensive players have been “outstanding.” He rated the two practices sessions as productive and the work will now lead into their first scrimmage session Saturday.
Ash and the rest of the defensive staff are working with a group that struggled throughout much of the 2012 season. Arkansas surrendered 409.9 yards and 30.4 points a game, leaning on young players at key positions like linebacker, cornerback and safety because of injuries and depth issues.
Linebacker Otha Peters said adjusting to a new defense has its challenges, but the staff is concentrating on fundamentals and practicing patience so far.
“He’s letting us go slow,” Peters said. “They don’t expect us to know all this at one time, so they’re letting us go slow. We’ve just got to learn as we go.”
Ash said he doesn’t know the language or terminology used by Arkansas’ defense under the previous staff and has done “very little looking back.” The slate was wiped clean and replaced with new calls, formations, coverages and fronts this spring.
The new staff is also busy evaluating the talent among the group. Ash told players he wants them to treat practices like it’s “NFL Draft day” because everyone is being evaluated as Arkansas figures out which players will help them next season.
“We’ve got some very talented players,” Ash said. “We’ve got some deficiencies at some spots, too. I haven’t coached in the SEC. I’ve coached in the Big 12 and in the Big Ten, and I only know what I know from previous stops.
“We’ve got some players that can play anywhere in the country. We’ve got some guys that have got a long way to go from a talent standpoint. But for us, honestly, we’re not going to make excuses for anything like that.”
Ash said he heard all about Arkansas’ deficiencies at safety when he arrived this winter. But he has had a different impression of his group so far this spring.
“I have been very pleased with those guys,” Ash said. “Rohan Gaines and Eric Bennett are two guys that played a lot last year. They have done a nice job.”
Bennett was plagued by injuries through much of the 2012 season, while Gaines started as a redshirt freshman. They’re not alone on the back line this spring, working with group that includes junior college transfer T.Q. Coleman.
Ash said he’ll get a better feel for the safety position after Saturday’s scrimmage.
“We’ll see how they tackle,” Ash said. “We talk constantly about the safeties being the generals of the defense and being able to adjust and get guys in the right spots and they have done an outstanding job of that thus far.”
Tavarres settling in
Linebacker Myke Tavarres, who transferred to Arkansas after spending two seasons at a junior college, said he’s adjusting to his new life with the Razorbacks.
“It’s been busy,” Tavarres said. “Definitely in school all day, then done with school and straight to practice. We’ve got meetings and team and, like, we’re always here. That’s different from junior college. It’s really up-tempo and I’m loving it.”
Tavarres is being counted on to help Arkansas at linebacker, which is a position the Razorbacks have targeted as one of its primary concerns. He is working with a group that includes sophomores Otha Peters and A.J. Turner this spring.
“Well, we are a little bit thin, but we’ve got the guys,” Tavarres said. “We have the talent and we’ve got guys who are all willing to work hard.”
Lowe not with team
Safety Defonta Lowe, who is listed on Arkansas’ spring roster, has not been participating in practices this week.
Ash was asked about the sophomore during Thursday’s news conference and said Lowe “is not with us.” But Ash would not elaborate on the Bearden native’s absence.
“That is something you will have to talk about with Coach Bielema,” Ash said.
Lowe played in four games as a freshman and recorded one tackle.