Hogs love freedom of 3-4 defense; more notes

Hogs love freedom of 3-4 defense; more notes

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FAYETTEVILLE - They say you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, but it seems you can teach old Hogs a new scheme.

Senior defensive tackle turned noseguard Bijohn Jackson of El Dorado and senior free safety Josh Liddell of Pine Bluff Dollarway are learning and loving the new 3-4 defensive scheme installed by first-year defensive coordinator/second year defensive backfield coach Paul Rhoads.

The Razorbacks started spring football practice Tuesday, the first of two mandatory practices in helmets and shorts before full pads are donned Saturday.

“It gives us more flexibility,” Liddell said after Tuesday’s practice. “We can be more dynamic in how we bring pass-rushers in and stop their run. I think it’s going to be a great run-stopper for us. I think we’ll be a better defense this year.”

Both have greater freedom in the 3-4, Jackson and Liddell say, than the base 4-3 that Arkansas played previously under Bielema and former UA defensive coordinators Chris Ash and Robb Smith.

“I’m playing more of a centerfielder in the 3-4,” Liddell said. “It’s not more like the cover six where I’m on one side of the field. I’m more in the middle so I can help on both sides. It’s just different.”

Deliciously different to Jackson.

“I love it,” Jackson said. “It's a lot different from the last defense. I've got a lot more freedom. I just don't have much to worry about. I can just come off and play. Last year was just kind of come off and hold the gap or whatever. Now I can just come off and play and not worry about what gap I come out in. They go to pass, I pass rush. I'm really excited about the opportunity.”

Jackson reads avidly for his classes, without redshirting he’s on course to graduate a semester ahead of schedule in December with a degree in sports management.

But for football he wants to react.

“Just being lined up on the center and mainly playing the backside A gap I really don't have to worry about getting reads like I did last year,” Jackson said. “It will be easier to come off and make some plays I believe.”

Although with three letters in three years, Jackson has done fine, he knows it hasn’t been the career many envisioned when he came out of El Dorado as a nationally sought recruit.

“I’m not really worried about that,” Jackson said. “It kind of bothered me early. I mean I haven't done some of the things I'm probably capable of doing, but I know what I'm capable of. I know this defense is gonna help me showcase some of the things that I'm better at doing. I'm really excited.”

So excited he cut short his time back home during last week’s spring break to return to Fayetteville and continue rehabbing the quadriceps he “tweaked” during the winter off-season.

“That was spring break so it shows me his commitment level,” Bielema said. “You are always defined by a senior who kind of maybe goes beyond where he’s ever been before, and I think he’s my leading candidate.”

Jackson worked first-team Tuesday between ends Karl Roesler and Hope’s McTelvin “Sosa” Agim, while Rhoads returns a veteran secondary with Liddell and senior De’Andre Coley as the safeties and Ryan Pulley and Henre Toliver at the corners.

Arkansas senior center and Rimington Trophy candidate Frank Ragnow said the Razorbacks’ perfect attendance at all winter workouts and functions indicates the second-half meltdown in the Belk Bowl to Virginia Tech after leading 24-0 at half was not a complete loss.

“You think how terrible that Virginia Tech game was, but I think overall it was a blessing to us,” Ragnow said. “Because if we had won that game, we would have been all happy high-tailed about it.  In the end, our goal is to win a SEC championship and not win the Belk Bowl, no offense to that (bowl). I think losing that game really opened some eyes to some players who haven’t really bought into the process. So I think it’s been great to see this off-season and how much of a step forward we’ve already taken.”

Ragnow said it will be “weird” not stepping out for the first spring scrimmage two Saturdays hence as Bielema doesn’t want to risk his potential 2017 All-America/potentially high 2018 NFL draft with a lingering injury from spring practice.

“That’s all Coach B’s thing,” Ragnow said. “I don’t even know how to handle it. It’s a humbling thing to be looked at with the ability that I can be held out, but I am going to be out there chomping at the bit to at least be speaking to the guys. We’ll just see how it goes.”

Spacing their 15 allotted spring dates through the April 29 Red-White game, the Hogs are off Wednesday. They practice Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through April 29.

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