This is the final installment in a four-part series previewing Arkansas' spring football practice. In today's installment, Hogwired.com takes examines the Razorbacks' secondary and special teams.
SECONDARY: Secondary coach Louis Campbell is headed back to the sideline. After spending the last eight years as the Hogs’ director of football operations, the veteran coach will be taking stock of his options in the defensive backfield this spring.
While other Razorback defenders garnered much of the attention last season, junior cornerback Chris Houston was quietly posting a solid season.
Vinnett is back from his medical redshirt season, but will have to overtake
Senior Michael Coe and junior John Johnson have significant snaps under their belts and will provide additional cornerback support. Coe started the first eight games of the 2005 season at left cornerback before taking on a reserve role down the stretch. Johnson has been a regular on special teams and in the cornerback rotation for the past two seasons. He earned a season-best seven tackles in the Hogs’ win over Louisiana-Monroe in 2005.
The competition will likely be spirited at left cornerback as well. Junior Matterral “Red”
Junior Michael Grant will be among
While the cornerback spots appear to be a matter of letting the cream rise to the top, the competition for the safety positions may resemble a good old-fashioned tryout this spring. The Razorbacks are not without talented options at both free and strong safety, however, clear-cut starters have yet to be established.
Senior Randy Kelly has a slight edge in the race for the starting free safety spot entering spring practice. Kelly played some at both safety positions last year and started the final six games of the 2005 season at strong safety. With last year’s starting free safety Vickiel Vaughn now pursuing a pro career, Kelly will get first shot at taking over that lineup slot in 2006.
Kelly was second to Vaughn in tackles among Razorback defensive backs last season earning 58 stops. He provided a spark in
If Kelly is a step ahead entering the spring, chances are that sophomore Elston Forte will be on the senior’s heels from the get-go. Forte was a regular in the secondary and on special teams in 2005 playing in 10 of the squad’s 11 games. He earned the first interception of his career against Louisiana-Monroe and saw more playing time as the season progressed. Sophomore
Perhaps the most intriguing position saga this spring will be at strong safety. Junior college transfer John West enrolled at
Junior Kevin Woods and redshirt freshman Matt Harris will also line up at strong safety this spring. Woods collected 12 tackles and a pass break-up last season. He played primarily on special teams with spot duty in the secondary. Harris, the son of former Dallas Cowboys’ great Cliff Harris, will try and make the most of his spring opportunity to earn a spot in the strong safety rotation.
SPECIALISTS: Since arriving at
Last season, Skinner proved adept at landing punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line and limiting some of the nation’s most potent punt returners to less-than-average performances. Skinner killed 15 punts inside the 20, including eight punts inside the 10-yard line. He forced 21 fair catches including three by USC’s Heisman Trophy Winner Reggie Bush.
Junior Jeremy Davis will back Skinner at punter, but will focus primarily on the vacant placekicking position. Last season’s placekicker, Chris Balseiro, has played out his eligibility leaving field goals and extra points up for grabs this spring.
Vavra is once again the favorite to handle kickoff duties. Senior snapper Brett Goode is one of the leaders of the team and has proven to be a steady hand on and off the field for the Razorbacks.
Joining Jones again on the back line of the kickoff return team will be Darren McFadden. McFadden averaged an impressive 29.0 yards per attempt in 2005 including a season-long return of 81 yards against No. 3 LSU. The Hogs will also have the talented option of utilizing redshirt freshman Michael Smith in that role in 2006.
Jones may also be the man to beat on punt returns this spring. Jones only returned one punt last season, but may be inserted to try and bolster the Hogs’ production on punt returns. Junior Peyton Hillis returned 16 punts last year and provided the Razorbacks with the most reliable set of hands on the squad. He will be a reliable reserve if someone else doesn’t step up. Sophomore Reggie Fish was recruited with punt returning responsibilities in mind, but the quick 5-7 dynamo struggled to field punts consistently. He will get another opportunity this spring and in fall camp.