FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas’ secondary is making strides this season in year two with Ron Cooper and Mark Smith both returning.
On Tuesday following practice, Smith talked about what the Hogs are doing at the nickel position with D’Vone McClure moving to linebacker.
“Of course Greg Brooks has been playing out there,” Smith said. “We’ve been playing Micahh Smith both at corner and nickel. Then we’ve got Nathan Parodi and Simeon Blair.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that have been rotating in and working that spot. Really it’s a spot any corner can go in and play with as much wide open 11, 10 personnel we see that’s really a third corner that’s out on the field. Really the skill-sets overlap a lot between nickel and corner.”
As far as cornerback, Smith likes the combination of players he has worked with both in the spring and this fall. He was asked about Jarques McClellion, Montaric Brown, Devin Bush and LaDarrius Bishop.
“It has been a rotation,” Smith said. “We’ve worked a lot of different guys within different groups including Micahh Smith in that rotation. So we’re gonna continue to mix it up and work guys on both sides and just put them in different positions and see how they respond while out there.”
Smith has seen McClellion grow off the field as well as on it.
“You know he only started nine games a year ago,” Smith said. “He’s still a young player, but he’s got more experience than any of the other corners we have. He has had a great camp and in the meeting room he really has taken over that leadership role. Kam Curl likewise with the safeties.”
Ron Cooper agreed on how Curl is being a leader among the safeties.
“Kam has been great,” Cooper said. “Kam understands the scheme. He actually anticipates and knows the different checks that go with every single coverage call that we have. He’s trying to be more of a leader even though he’s only a 20-year-old.
“He’s in his third year, but he’s the old one out on the field with the most playing experience on the back end. He knows the correct alignments of everybody. He is communicating well and getting better everyday.”
He is joined by Joe Foucha at the other safety who started one game in 2018 as a true freshman.
“Joe is definitely playing faster,” Cooper said. “He’s probably most improved from what we had in the spring. Again, it was a slow start for him last year. We threw him in the back there as a freshman. He actually had to start the last game, that made him mature a lot more.
“But, he’s worked his tail off in the spring. He’s really had an excellent summer. I think that’s really played a part in what he’s doing right now. We still have work to do though.”
Are Jalen Catalon and Myles Mason the No. 2 safeties at this time?
“We got a group of guys,” Cooper said. “We haven’t decided yet. I’m still looking at several different combinations. We are going to find the top four to five guys that can play.
“You know, you can’t play safety, you play with two of them. Something’s going to happen to one or two. So, you got to have five to six. So, it will all sort out. I feel comfortable with the way the guys are playing now. For Catalon to be nine practices in, he’s doing some good things also.”
As one would expect in the second year with the same coaches the install is moving along nicely.
“Well the guys understand most of everything,” Cooper said. “I’d probably say 90 percent in the secondary. We try to keep the scheme, coverage philosophy kind of the same. We change stunts, everything else but the coverage that we call remains the same. I mean, that is what allows us to be so versatile up front.
“At the same time, our guys have got to learn the fine tracks to it. What does a tight split mean? When two guys are stacked next to each other, how do you play that? If the offense came out and lined up the same every time it would be easy. We got to apply all the adjustments to all the splits and formation and formation balances, formations on the wide side of the field, empties and everything we see.”
So it’s safe to say you are seeing a nice progression on defense?
“There is no doubt,” Cooper said. “I look out there and I looked at the group today that played on the second group and the two safeties, we put Jalen in there one time and I had a young kid in there at nickel. Day Day (LaDarrius Bishop) was at one corner and Devin Bush at the other. They are both redshirt freshmen, even though they were here in January or last year, there are not a lot of SEC teams playing that way.
“What is going to be the difference? Teaching them the great technique and fundamentals, not to flinch and understand how to take the ball away. If we do that, we’ve got a chance.”
Smith explained what Arkansas has done in practice when they have worked on the dime package.
“We have rotated a lot of guys,” Smith said. “We’re trying to kinda figure out the right matchups there. We’ve taken Joe Foucha has come from high down and worked some of the dime position and brought Myles Mason in back there over the top and kept the same rest of the secondary in that’s kinda how we’ve run it so far with the first group.”
Arkansas will return to the practice field on Wednesday at 10:05 a.m.