FAYETTEVILLE — In Arkansas’ new 3-4 defense they’ve got big plans for their two biggest nose tackles.
For with all that Coach Bret Bielema, defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads and new defensive line coach John Scott have talked about “setting the edge, they know every defense must be anchored in the middle.
So they’ve set big expectations on big nose tackles Austin Capps, the 6-4, 309 sophomore from Star City, and Bijhon Jackson, the even bulkier, 6-2, 330 senior from El Dorado.
The defensive coaches periodically raised eyebrows practicing Capps first team ahead of Jackson. But that seems more based on giving Capps, not redshirting last year, more work and allowing Jackson some work out at defensive end.
For on his purely day to spring ball performance, it seems Bijhon Jackson has impressed Rhoads as much as anybody.
Asked last Thursday who has progressed the most from Day One of spring practice, Rhoads replied, “To a man I would say everybody elevated their game from that first scrimmage. Some more than others. Bijhon Jackson would be one. From the first week through the last two scrimmages his game has really improved.”
Jackson’s interception of a tipped Cole Kelley pass that he returned for what likely would have been a hazardous touchdown during the April 8 scrimmage remains one of the most discussed plays of spring drills. All plays at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, including for Saturday’s Red-White game, are run north-south because for now the north end zone is literally a pit undergoing reconstruction.
With the pick, Jackson and his 332 pounds were headed north under a full head of steam.
“Light on his feet,” Bielema said of Jackson’s surprising quickness. “We’ve got a secure drop off the back end zone. I’d hate to see Bijhon falling 20 feet into the pit over there.”
Both Bielema and Rhoads seemed amused with Jackson’s “high stepping” returning his pick.
Jackson and Capps also were praised for their April 15 scrimmage.
“Austin Capps and Bijhon in my opinion took a big jump today,” Bielema said after the April 15 scrimmage. “I know nose guards don’t stand out to everybody but I saw them do some things.”
Last Saturday Bielema eschewed scrimmaging for a regular practice.
With only practices Tuesday and Thursday and Saturday’s noon free admission to the public Red-White game remaining for spring drills, third-year sophomore Ty Storey of Charleston and redshirt freshman Cole Kelley of Lafayette, La. are running out of time to separate themselves in their competition to be the backup quarterback behind senior incumbent SEC passing leader Austin Allen.
“I think the No. 2 quarterback (competition) has been a lot of fun to watch,” Bielema said after Saturday’s practice. “Both Ty and Cole do some really good things and then they’ll have one of their moments and have got to grow from it. I thought Ty today was very, very efficient. He made a nice ball down the field. I like where he’s going. But it’s going to be fun to watch that 2 quarterback battle out.”
Offensive coordinator Enos, also the quarterbacks coach, says the close competition keeps both from easing up.
“It’s been nip and tuck,” Enos said. “One of them hasn’t really grabbed the reins and just taken it. They’ve both done really good and they’ve both made some mistakes where they’ve evened things out. I think the best thing that’s happened to Ty Storey is that Cole Kelley is there pushing him. The best thing for Cole Kelley right now Ty Storey pushing him. Competition makes everyone better.”
Waiting on the draft
Bielema was asked Saturday about the prospects of some in his 2016 senior class, namely tight end Jeremy Sprinkle of White Hall; receivers Drew Morgan, Greenwood; Keon Hatcher, Owasso, Okla. Dominique Reed, Camden; and Cody Hollister, offensive tackle Dan Skipper, defensive linemen Deatrich Wise, Jeremiah Ledbetter and linebacker Brooks Ellis, Fayetteville, getting selected in this week’s 3-day NFL draft.
“It’s been kind of a mixed bag,” Bielema said “ I’ve gotten calls on Keon Hatcher, Drew Morgan, I’ve got calls on Cody Hollister who is having a little pro day on Monday. I got calls last week on Sprink, Skipper. I think some of these guys are unique markets. The team that will probably grab Sprink is someone that traditionally uses a tight end like we do. I’d be shocked if it wasn’t someone that’s in that tradition. I’d be surprised, too, with some people like Ledbetter and Wise and a guy like Brooks Ellis is so conscientious he can play so many positions. He might be a guy that somebody really likes and grabs in the fourth or fifth. It’ll be really interesting.”