FAYETTEVILLE — Redshirt sophomore linebacker Chris “Pooh” Paul brings both talent and leadership to the Razorbacks this fall.

Paul has just started two games in his career while playing in 17 due to the presence of Bumper Pool, Drew Sanders and others. But last year with Pool battling injuries much of the season Paul played almost as much and had an outstanding season. Pool started the Missouri game and then the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. With Pool departed Paul will now assume more of the leadership role as well.

“I feel like some of the younger guys on defense look up to me in that aspect,” Paul said. “Because they feel like they’re comfortable enough to come ask me questions about anything. Or just for me to pick them up when their spirits are low. But I feel like I’ve gotten real comfortable in my position and my role for this team. And I feel like it’s going to be a great season.”

In 2022, Paul finished with 62 tackles, including 38 solo, 8.5 for loss, four sacks, a forced fumble, one recovered and three quarterback hurries. In the Liberty Bowl true freshman Jordan Crook started next to Paul. Sam Pittman feels that Crook has continued to make strides this offseason and now the preseason.

“Absolutely, I think the bowl helped him, gave him confidence,” Pittman said. “He’s a hard-working son of a gun, now. When we run sprints, it’s a fight to see who can beat him. Guys do, at times. Pooh is one of them, but Crook’s going to give you everything he has all the time. That’s just who he is and that’s really why we went on him in high school, because of how hard he plays.”

Crook finished the season with 12 tackles, 0.5 for loss and one quarterback hurry. Jaheim Thomas is a new linebacker who transferred in from Cincinnati. The redshirt junior played 29 games with the Bearcats finishing with 90 tackles for his career, including 70 last season with 6.5 for loss, two sacks and a quarterback in his best season there. Against Arkansas last season, Thomas finished with seven tackles, five solo and a 0.5 tackle for loss.

“I feel like Jaheim had a good day today,” Paul said Friday. “He picked up on his schemes and things like that. Jaheim’s the type of guy to come in and get extra film review and hit us up if he has any questions.

“But the way he moved around today, he was fast, he was fluid. He was just moving around like a linebacker should.”

Antonio Grier Jr. enrolled at midterm coming over from South Florida where he played five years. He started 27 games at USF and played in 48. Grier had 238 tackles there.

“They’re both doing a good job,” Paul said. “Antonio came in as a very vocal leader, very vocal type guy. He leads by action. We got to see him run today, and he was doing pretty well.

“Like I said earlier, Jaheim Thomas, he was moving fluid today. It’s the first day, so you know we’re going to make mistakes. But I feel like he left no room for error. He just went out and played all out.”

Ben Sowders came in as strength and conditioning coach following the season. Paul feels like him and the team has a good connection with Sowders.

“It’s been great,” Paul said. “We’ve got a great relationship with the strength staff. We’ve got a lot of respect for them. They came in and they changed the culture around here and things like that. The things that they’ve been doing have been great. You see a lot of guys putting on muscle mass and things like that. A lot of guys are transforming their bodies and also gaining speed and things of that aspect. I feel like our relationship with the (strength) coaches are pretty good.”

Friday’s first practice started at 6:40 a.m. For Paul the early start wasn’t an issue.

” It wasn’t that hard for me to get up either,” Paul said. “I was up at 4:45 a.m. It wasn’t that hard for me.”

Arkansas will return to the practice fields on Sunday.