Freshman Bijhon Jackson was expected to be a candidate for early playing time before Arkansas opened preseason camp.
His first three days on the practice field haven’t changed the Razorbacks’ opinion.
“He’s a strong individual,” Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith said. “He’s a guy that’s going to help us eat up some ‘A’ gaps inside. He can dictate daylight in the center of our defense and that’s crucial. It all starts there if you can get a guy on center who can disrupt things and Bijhon certainly has the ability to do that.”
Jackson’s potential was clear before he arrived. Scout.com ranked Jackson, who is from El Dorado, as the fourth-best defensive tackle prospect in the country. But defensive line coach Segrest said Jackson was “a little soft-looking” when he arrived.
That changed after a summer with strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert.
“That thing that’s really stood out is just the quickness and suddenness that he’s go for a big guy,” Segrest said. “He’s got great movement. He’s very coachable. He understands what we’re trying to get out of the defense and has studied the game.”
Jackson, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 334 pounds in Arkansas’ media guide, is trying to make an impact in a position group that includes returning starting Darius Philon and Demarcus Hodge. The Razorbacks don’t have much interior experience outside of the two veterans, so Jackson’s acclimation is critical during preseason camp.
He has made a good impression on the coaching staff after three days. Segrest hopes it continues, leading to early playing time for the freshman.
“I think he’s talented enough to do that,” Segrest said. “He’s just going to have to continue to stay on top of his playbook and just make sure he’s up to speed in terms of our assignments. But I think he’s very capable of doing that.”
2. Where’s Will?
Arkansas cornerback Will Hines started six of the first seven games last season before being sidelined by a broken arm. The junior is healthy entering preseason camp, but apparently has some work to do to regain a starting spot.
“Hines the last couple of days has had a pretty good day,” Arkansas secondary coach Clay Jennings said. “The effort is not always consistent, but you know with those long arms he’s made some plays and he’s made a couple of plays on some slants. If I can get his eyes in the right place, I think he might be able to help us along the way.”
Jennings was asked what has been holding Hines — who has two career interceptions — back in a group of cornerbacks that includes Carroll Washington, Jared Collins and Tevin Mitchel. Jennings said it’s simply “competition.”
“It brings out the best in everybody, you know?” Jennings said. “Either you’re going to jump off the porch and go eat, or you’re going to stay on the porch and watch the cars go by.”
3. What They’re Saying
Athlon’s had SEC coaches offer anonymous thoughts about teams around the conference once again. The thoughts on Arkansas weren’t exactly flattering as Bret Bielema and the Hogs try to bounce back from last season’s 3-9 performance.
“Based on what they are doing, I just don’t think they can score enough. It starts with the offense – they are not set up to score a lot of points. It’s ball control, grind it out, I-formation, play-action football,” one conference coach told Athlon’s.
“Their quarterback is back (Brandon Allen) and they should be better as a result, but I’m not sure if he’s the answer long-term,” a coach told Athlon’s.
There was praise for running back Alex Collins, but Arkansas’ lack of skill position players on offense and talent in the secondary were highlights of the conversation.
Arkansas believes it will be much improved in both areas this season.
“Keep in mind, Bret didn’t inherit much,” a coach told Athlon’s. “The recruiting transition from Petrino leaving to John L. Smith for a year was never going to be smooth. There were guys on that roster they wouldn’t have taken when he was at Wisconsin. So he needs time to get that done. But they need a boost at the skill positions, such as receiver and cornerback. They just don’t have a lot of playmaking there.”
4. Extra Points
• Senior Trey Flowers is on the watch list for the Hendricks Award, which is awarded to the nation’s top defensive end. It’s the fourth preseason watch list for Flowers, who is also in consideration for the Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik awards after collecting 44 tackles, 13 ½ tackles for losses and 5 sacks last season.
• Arkansas linebacker coach Randy Shannon said TQ Coleman continues to work with the linebackers after moving down from safety late last spring. “He brings a lot of dimension because he’s a guy that if we start facing spread teams he can go in and be physical, but also go outside and do some things coverage wise.”
• Cornerback Tevin Mitchel is being held out of contact after undergoing offeason shoulder surgery. But Jennings said the senior will be just fine as Arkansas works through camp. “Just treating him with kid gloves a little bit,” Jennings said. “He’s a little upset with me because he’s chomping at the bit. He wants to be out there.”
• Flowers and sophomore Deatrich Wise are working with the first-team at defensive end. Tevin Beanum and Brandon Wise have been working with the second-team defense to start preseason camp.
• Arkansas put on shoulder pads for the first time this preseason and Smith said it helped the Razorbacks begin to “establish our physicality” as a defense. “The first two days were in just helmets running around,” Smith said. “So it was a great opportunity for us to work on leverage, work on physicality, setting an edge, press and hit, just basic fundamentals of defense.”