FAYETTEVILLE — Eric Gregory is expected to be one of key defensive linemen for Arkansas this season after a good redshirt freshman season in 2020.
Gregory played in nine games last fall finishing with 27 tackles, including 12 solo, three tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, one interception and a quarterback hurry. On the latest roster released by Arkansas, Gregory is listed at 6-foot-4, 298-pounds.
“I’m actually 300 right now,” Gregory said. “I really feel like I haven’t gained any weight to be honest with you. I’m still moving pretty good. So I don’t feel like I gained too much weight. I feel like I can move pretty good with it, In or outside.”
At 300 pounds, are you also playing some inside or still just defensive end?
“Yes sir, I’m playing both actually,” Gregory said. “I’m playing in and outside. I’m getting more reps inside too. But yeah, I’m playing both in and outside.”
Arkansas has completed five spring practices now. How has the intensity been thus far?
“Oh yes, most definitely,’ Gregory said. “Our coaches have installed that, basically all offseason to be more intense, to bring intensity and enthusiasm to each practice and workout. So everything we do we’re trying to do it intentionally and fast.”
One goal for the defensive line is apply more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. That was something that Arkansas wasn’t able to do last fall to Sam Pittman’s satisfaction. Among the things Arkansas is doing is widening the defensive ends out.
“I think it’s, I feel like it’s great,” Gregory said. “It gives us like less men double-teamed on the interior. The movement has helped us a lot with our pass rush. We can set more moves and stuff up instead of getting double-teamed and clustered up in the middle.”
The widening of the ends seems to be working according to tight end Blake Kern.
“They’re just playing more aggressive, you know,” Kern said. “We’re trying to get some aggressive pass-rushers, and we definitely see that as tight ends. We’re going up against those guys every day, so it’s really cool to see the transformation. Like, Eric was in here earlier, and dude’s made a 100-percent progression in his game just because a year of football, and he’s changed his body and he looks totally different. It’s been fun to go up against those guys every day. I think that’s the biggest thing for us is Coach Pittman’s making adjustments on defense. We have to make them on offense too, but it’s been cool to see those guys grow over the past year now that we’re a week into camp.”
Arkansas is doing some other things to help with the pass rush following the hiring of Jermial Ashley to coach the defensive line.
“Well, our new D-line coach Ashley, he’s working more on our hands,” Gregory said. “To get our hands and feet coordinated together. That’s helping us out a lot with our pass rush. Then just shedding, and learning how to work on a double team, like pressing one guy instead of pressing two. All of that is helping our pass rush a lot.”
What are some of the points of emphasis this spring to make sure the defensive line is better?
“We’ll be a better front just by what we installed, basically,” Gregory said. “Making more plays, not really sitting on our line, just pressuring everything, putting pressure on the quarterback and just getting up the field, getting in the backfield and being disruptive.”
Another key to the defense continuing to improve was Arkansas able to retain defensive coordinator Barry Odom.
“It was huge man,” Gregory said. “All our defensive players love Coach Odom. He brings a different mindset to the game for us. We just feel like we can trust him so keeping him here was very big. We appreciate him for staying and coach for keeping him here also.”
One of the defensive leaders last year was Jonathan Marshall, who has since graduated and will be in the 2021 NFL Draft. Who is stepping up as leaders this spring thus far?
“Really everybody is stepping up,” Gregory said. “I would say the main vocal leaders, I would say DG (Dorian Gerald) he steps up a lot. Isaiah (Nichols) is more of the vocal leader for us in the D-line group and even TC (Taurean Carter). TC has been more vocal also. I would say those two really are the vocal of our D-line group.”
Gregory and the Hogs will scrimmage on Saturday inside the stadium in front of fans.
“It’s going to be huge,” Gregory said. “It’s going to feel like another game. We’ll be happy to bring the fans in. It’s going to give us a lot of energy for our defense and offense, so it’s going to be pretty good.”
Saturday’s scrimmage will be the sixth practice this spring. Arkansas will then practice on Tuesday before heading out for spring break.