Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith declined to comment on middle linebacker Otha Peters’ departure on Tuesday night. Instead, Smith said it’s simply “next guy in” as the Razorbacks replace the junior on the depth chart.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema announced Monday night that Peters was leaving the program. He opened preseason practice as Arkansas’ second-team middle linebacker behind sophomore Brooks Ellis, but the spot is now being manned by junior college transfer Josh Williams and freshman Khalia Hackett.
“We’ll get a little bit better look at Josh,” Smith said. “We’ve got a couple of younger guys that we can shuffle in and out of there. We feel really good about Brooks. Now we’ve just got to keep developing depth with the guys we have within the program.”
Arkansas linebackers coach Randy Shannon said the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Williams, who is from South Florida, responded well to his promotion Tuesday.
“He’s doing some good things,” Shannon said. “He played the run well early in camp. His pass coverage wasn’t where it’s supposed to be at, but like anything, he’s still going forward in the pass game. (Tuesday) you could tell he’s starting to understand what we’re doing as a whole system. It was kind of pleasing to see him do some great things in the pass coverage.”
Shannon also referred questions about Peters to Bielema, who was not available for comment after Tuesday’s practice. He said Arkansas wouldn’t look back.
But Smith added Peters’ departure will give Arkansas a good chance to get a “better look” at Williams, who was a late addition to the Razorbacks’ signing class.
Williams was a full qualifier out of Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) Dilliard High, but enrolled and played at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College last year. Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman recruited Williams and noticed he had the grades to leave community college after one season. So Williams joined the Razorbacks.
“Coach Pittman came to Dodge City and he was telling me how low they were on linebackers,” Williams said. “The depth was thin, thin. So I took the chance. … I’d rather have three years at a Division I school rather than two years.”
Now he’ll get a chance to earn a spot on Arkansas’ two-deep depth chart.
“Just execute the defense,” Shannon said. “That’s the biggest thing. A lot of people think that it’s speed, height, weight all that. Nah, it’s executing what you see on the football field. That’s how you get an opportunity to play.”
2. Eat, Eat, Eat
There’s one advantage to being a 260-pound nose guard. Taiwan Johnson is being encouraged to eat as much as he wants during preseason camp.
“I pretty much have the green light,” Johnson said. “I like to eat.”
The Razorbacks are hoping it will help Johnson hold his own on the interior after being promoted to the first-team defense after last Saturday’s scrimmage. Production will be Johnson’s top priority as he fights to hold onto the starting spot, but the sophomore said making sure he can manage his weight will be key as well.
“I just have to keep doing what I do because it is physical and my body has to be able to hold up in there,” Johnson said.
3. Tight Competition
Braylon Mitchell was Arkansas’ second-leading tackler last season, but the senior is facing plenty of competition for the starting spot at strong side linebacker this week.
Senior Daunte Carr and freshman Randy Ramsey are pressing Mitchell for playing time and made an impression in last Saturday’s scrimmage. Carr and Ramsey were both credited with two sacks. Ramsey also recovered a fumble.
Shannon said Mitchell and Carr alternated with the first-team defense during Tuesday’s practice. Mitchell said Ramsey is learning quickly as well.
“Ramsey is a guy who is definitely going to help us out this year,” Mitchell said. “He’s picking up the defense a lot. He’s a guy who is very coachable and when he makes a mistake, he owns up to it. And he gets in the next few plays and he picks it up every time. So he’s picking up the defense every time.”
4. Extra Points
• Defensive end Trey Flowers was held out of scrimmages last spring. So his work Saturday was the first in a game-like setting since the 2013 season. “As a defensive lineman, you are really banging every play,” Flowers said. “It may just be thud, but you’re still banging against an offensive lineman. So I didn’t have a lot of rust on me, but it was good to be able to tackle. The rust is off now.”
• Smith credited his defense for its physicality during last Saturday’s scrimmage. But it wasn’t perfect. “I really liked the way we ran to the football,” Smith said. “I thought we had a physical presence, a physical mentality. We’ve got to do a better job at times of keeping the ball in front of us and setting an edge on things, but I think we can continue to improve from a technique standpoint there and clean that up.”
• Smith said Arkansas took the next step in its installation Tuesday: “We worked on when the offense or defense is backed up, those types of situations. We got a little more involved in third down. So we’re building the package. We like where we are.”