Usually when the Arkansas Razorbacks lose two All-SEC caliber players at a position like they have with the matriculation of linebackers Grant Morgan and Hayden Henry from their program last January, the expectation is for the Hogs to take a step backwards at that position.
However, that might not be the case this year.
Thanks to the return of leading tackler Bumper Pool (6-2, 232) of Lucas, Texas, who basically split time with Henry and Morgan last season, for a super senior season and the transfer in of former five-star Alabama recruit Drew Sanders (6-5, 232), of Denton, Texas, there is some thought that the Hogs will be as strong at linebacker and perhaps even better than last year.
Now, that could all just be summertime hopes, dreams, and fairy dust, but the Hogs seemed to be steady in the middle of the field in spring with Pool’s experience and Sanders’ talent shining through.
Pool is an all-conference and All-American candidate from his linebacker spot after making a team-leading 125 tackles last year and 101 stops in 2021. With 349 career tackles, he’s within reach of overtaking the Hogs’ all-time tackle leader Tony Bua, who finished with 408 career stops in 2003.
Based on Pool’s tackle totals last year, he could could tally the 60 tackles it would take to overtake the school record sometime after midseason if he remains healthy.
But it will be a race to the football, as Pool described Arkansas’ linebacker play last year between him and Sanders, who was starting for Alabama last year before an injury stymied his progress.
Arkansas worked its 3-2-6 alignment in the spring, which specializes in funneling the action inside to the linebackers as linemen occupy blocks to allow the linebackers to flow sideline to sideline. However, the Hogs also worked in a 4-3 alignment, which featured an exotic blitz package that kept Arkansas’ experienced offensive line on its toes.
In a Hogs Plus interview, Razorback center Ricky Stromberg said defensive coordinator Barry Odom’s troops ran some blitz packages in spring workouts that the fifth-year senior said he had never seen.
Most Razorback defensive coordinators have hesitated from blitzing much over the last two decades because Arkansas wasn’t outfitted with the right talent at cornerback to consistently play man-to-man coverage that blitzing requires.
If Odom and his fellow defensive coaches are planning to blitz more, it means Arkansas is better in the back end than in recent years.
At Memphis and later at Missouri, Odom was known for his multiple blitz packages. He just hadn’t had the right type of talent to deploy them at Arkansas the last two seasons. Could that change this year? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Chris “Pooh” Paul Jr. (6-1, 232) of Cordele, Ga. played some before redshirting last year, but stepped forward in the spring. He might not rotate in as much as Pool did a year ago, but then again he might, depending how much he progresses in preseason drills, which begin today.
Sophomore Jackson Woodard (6-3, 228) is another young Razorback who could see considerable playing time in a back-up role this year. Kaden Henley (6-2, 222) of Springdale and Jordan Crook (6-2, 227) of Duncanville, Texas are two true freshman who have potential and could see playing time on special teams.
Fayetteville freshman Mani Powell (6-3, 220) is very athletic and is another young player who could see the field in some capacity this year.
Preseason Drills Start
The countdown to the Hogs’ Sept. 3 season opener with Cincinnati is officially on with the opening of preseason camp and the Razorbacks’ first practice at 5 p.m.
Under NCAA rules, the Hogs begin workouts in helmets and gradually add more protective gear as they work. The first day of full pads set for Thursday, after they take Wednesday off.
According to a schedule released by Arkansas Media Relations, the Razorbacks will have two closed scrimmages on Aug. 13 and Aug. 20 in the mid-day heat, probably to face similar weather conditions that they will see in their 2:30 p.m. opener against the Bearcats at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The Hogs will break training camp on Aug. 27 in a practice that has traditionally been a mock game for the team to have a dry run mimicking their game-day process.