FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas’ defense has a chance to be better in 2019, but if there’s improvement it will be a must that three players have the best year of their career.
This will be the second season in Fayetteville for John Chavis. The defensive coordinator has three of his four assistants on that side of the ball returning in 2019.
Interior defensive line coach John Scott Jr. left to go closer to home at South Carolina. Chad Morris replaced Scott with Auburn’s Kenny Ingram. Mark Smith and Ron Cooper return to coach the secondary while Steve Caldwell is back to mentor the defensive ends.
While the continuity in the coaching staff is important it will be the play of the players that determine the level of improvement this fall. That is where two seniors and a junior enter the picture. Not only must they have the best season since coming to Arkansas, but also provide leadership particularly when adversity hits.
Here’s the trio.
Kamren Curl, Safety, Junior
Despite being a true junior Curl is the elder member of Arkansas’ secondary. He has 22 career starts in his first two seasons. Being asked to step up and play beyond his experience isn’t anything new for Curl. In his first game as a true freshman, Ryan Pulley was injured just before halftime of the season opener against Florida A&M in Little Rock. Curl came in at cornerback to replace Pulley and then started the next 11 games for him. Curl went on to finish sixth on the team and tie for fourth among SEC freshmen with 46 tackles. He tied for the team lead with eight pass breakups which were the most for a freshman Arkansas defensive back since Lawrence Richardson had 17 in 2001. In 11 starts in 2018, Curl finished fourth on the team with 53 tackles. He moved to safety for the 2018 season and that is where he will play this fall. With the departure of Santos Ramirez much will be expected of Curl.
McTelvin Agim, Defensive End, Senior
The former five-star recruit will concentrate on defensive tackle this season after playing both end and tackle in 2018. Agim opted to return to Arkansas for his senior season following a year when he led the team in tackles for loss with 10. In 12 starts in 2018, Agim also had 45 tackles, 4.5 sacks, a team leading 11 quarterback hurries and tied for tops on the squad with three forced fumbles. That was a season probably when combined with a good effort at the NFL Combine and workouts for professional teams would have gotten him drafted maybe pretty high. But instead Agim opted to head back to Arkansas. He started his last five games as a true freshman in 2016 and played in all 13 games. He started 11 of the 12 games as a sophomore in 2017. Much of the success up front for Arkansas’ defense will ride on Agim’s shoulders.
De’Jon Harris, Linebacker, Senior
The talented inside linebacker led the SEC with 118 tackles in 2018. Much like Agim, Harris could have opted for the NFL and had a chance at playing professional football this fall. However, he opted to return to Arkansas and improve his game. He has been one of Arkansas’ most consistent players for two years now and Chavis needs more of the same in 2019. He will be working a new running mate at the other linebacker spot since Dre Greenlaw is now in the NFL. Sophomore Bumper Pool got a lot of experience in 2018 when Greenlaw was battling injuries. Harris and Pool should provide the Hogs with a very good pair of linebackers. Harris added nine tackles for loss, two sacks, a recovered fumble, one forced fumble, five pass breakups and two quarterback hurries in 2018. Harris has played in 36 games at Arkansas and started the last 24. The Hogs need that type durability this fall from one of the best linebackers in the SEC.