FAYETTEVILLE — Junior Isaiah Nichols is back to help provide some experience to a defensive line that saw three key members from last season move on.
Jonathan Marshall and Xavier Kelly opted to try for the NFL while Julius Coates entered the transfer portal. Nichols played in nine games in 2020 finishing with 24 tackles, including six solo, 0.5 for loss, 0.5 sack, and a pass breakup. Following Thursday’s practice, Nichols reflected back on his 2020 season.
“For me last season definitely being more valuable on third downs,” Nichols said. “Getting a better pass rush and be more effective and get more sacks for the team. This year I want to play more in the backfield. I’ve got more experience under my belt now. More than last year so I just want to use the experience I’ve been through and all the games I’ve played. Use that to motivate to get better and play in the backfield.”
Sam Pittman has placed a strong emphasis on the team improving its pass rush over last season. He brought in Jermial Ashley from Tulsa to coach the defensive line. Nichols talked about the progress in that area this spring.
“We’ve done tremendous,” Nichols said. “Coach Ashley coming in. He’s coached us up good. Getting in the backfield and making plays. I can see where (Mataio) Soli, Eric Thomas, Jashaud (Stewart), TC (Taurean Carter), Enoch (Jackson) and everybody is just locked in. Everybody on the same page and want to be successful. You can’t have, especially in this conference, a good team without a good D-line. So we’ve talked about that. It has been on our mind and coming in every day trying to get better. Do our job. Making it easier for guys.”
Nichols heaped a lot of praise on Ashley and the job he has done since coming to Arkansas.
“I think he brings good intensity and the standard,” Nichols said. “He has a standard on how he wants things done and he has a way he wants things done. But he coaches in a way that’s easy to understand. It’s different. This is my fourth year and fourth D-line coach, but I’ve been able to pull something from each one of them. I think Coach Ashley is doing a great job. He has definitely developed me as a player in the short practices I’ve had. He’s developed me more and I’m understanding the game better.”
Prior to spring drills, Ashley described what he thinks makes a good pass rusher.
“I think the number one thing that it takes to be a great pass rusher is understanding, and that is more along the lines of understanding the goals you are trying to accomplish,” Ashley said. “Understanding how tp attack there person you are going against, understanding that person’s weaknesses and how to take advantage of them.
“That is the biggest thing when it comes to a pass rusher, just knowing how to attack the person you are line up against.”
Arkansas will return to Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday for another scrimmage.