FAYETTEVILLE — Last season, Kam Curl and Joe Foucha got the majority of snaps at safety for the University of Arkansas.
But then Curl, a junior, declared for the 2020 NFL Draft, and is now with Washington. Foucha is back and the position has a new coach in Barry Odom, who is the defensive coordinator as well. Following Wednesday’s practice, Odom provided an update on the safeties.
“You know, we’ve rolled so many guys in,” Odom said. “You know, Foucha has been in there. (Jalen) Catalon’s been in. (Myles) Mason has been in. Micahh Smith. (Myles) Slusher as a new guy. Again, a lot of it depends on what is the emphasis of the period that we’re in defensively? What’s our package, sub-package? Are we in base defense? Are we in a nickel front, kinda how we’re structuring that. So, we’ve rotated a number of guys in the ‘two deep’, so to speak.
“They also know they’re a play away. If they’re not going with that first group out there, they’re a play away from getting on the field. We’ll kind of narrow that down here in the next few days on if we actually put a real depth chart together, what that would look like. Right now we’re trying to get as close to equal reps as we can, because there’s close competition. I want to see how we continue to play and play together through this next scrimmage.”
Foucha was third on the team in tackles in 2019 finishing with 87, including 44 solo, one for loss, an interception, four pass breakups, one quarterback hurry and a fumble recovery. Mason played in 11 games with one start, Smith played 11 games and Catalon four. Catalon saved his redshirt since he only played in four games and Slusher is a true freshman this season.
Sophomore Greg Brooks seems to be the leader at the nickel position. Sam Pittman has praised him and Odom did as well on Wednesday.
“Yeah, it’s a good question,” Odom said. “With that spot, there is a number of guys playing there, and Greg Brooks is really taken that position and played well. It’s not the only spot that he’s going to play. But a lot of it depends on what we’re getting personnel wise on who we’re going to put in that spot, down and distance, some of that within the scheme will dictate how we want to rotate the coverage, some things with that nature.
“But, again, it comes down to cross training and getting your best 11 on the field and finding a way to do that. We’re rolling a bunch of guys in that spot and the two high safety spots. It’s almost an interchangeable position at times. So, they’ve got to cross train and continue to work, and they’ve done a nice job. They’re getting an understanding, really, they got an understanding of the reason we’re making the call and they get what we’re trying to take away from the offense. And now the more reps we can get, we can start to play fast.”
Have you always cross trained your defensive backs this much or is it also because of COVID-19?
“I’ve always done that,” Odom said. “I think it’s important that I don’t ever want to label a guy just a corner or just a safety because there are so many sub packages that we have defensively. We’re going to line them up in a number of different roles. So, I think it’s important they understand what the other four guys or three guys on the field are doing depending on what we have on the field. So, we’ve done a lot of that. We’ve done it my entire career, and one thing I think is important is, and I think in this season it’s maybe more valuable than ever, that a guy can play multiple positions.”
A player who started out the preseason seeing action at both cornerback and nickel is Jerry Jacobs, a grad transfer from Arkansas State. He seems to be settling in at the cornerback spot opposite Montaric Brown.
“He’s a guy with some experience,” Odom said. “He’s played a number of snaps. He’s been a starter. Not in this league, but he’s been a starter. That shows up. He’s a savvy football player. He does have some physicalness to him. He’s got short area quickness. So those things for him, he’s been able to rely on a lot of that. I think Coach (Sam) Carter has done a nice job on really expanding his skill set. He’s made him a more complete players. We need him to play both corner spots, he’s going to try and help us out. He’s played some at the nickel spot. Again, its a guy we’re fortunate we have on our roster. He’s worked hard and is going to be a big part of what we do defensively.”
Arkansas will scrimmage on Friday.