There were three distinct trends during this time which came as a result of the changing landscape of offenses in college football. This involved transitioning from the era of big run-stopping backers who were not responsible for much in pass coverage, to the Nutt/Herring trend of moving safeties to linebacker and bigger linebackers to defensive ends. This was also the beginning of the hybrid LB/S that led to players like Tony Bua. The Petrino era trend looked for a specific skill set at the linebacker position (unsuccessfully for the most part). As more teams were spreading the field from the late 90's to what we see today, the coaches at Arkansas during this time began recruiting and transforming players to suit this new style of play.
At the beginning of the Houston Nutt era, there was All-American Arkansas Razorbacks statsJermaine Petty at 6-2 250 lbs, and Quinton Caver at 6-5 240. This was a stark contrast to the duo of Jerry Franklin and Wendel Davis ten years later in Bobby Petrino's first season in 2008 where neither were over 230 lbs. Every once in a while a guy like Sam Olajubutu at 5'9 210 comes along who can play regardless of fitting the prototype, or a guy like Jerry Franklin is able to grow in to the position. In general finding that 240+ middle linebacker that can anchor a defense but still stay on the field on 3rd down pass coverage has been an ongoing struggle for a decade.
These three players stand out above the rest at the linebacker position and are on the Arkansas Fight All-BCS Era team.
---- Jerry Franklin 2008-2011- MLB: Led the team in tackles four consecutive years at Arkansas. He was recruited out of Marion HS to play safety. The staff opted to redshirt him his first season and only weighing 215 lbs was able to add weight up to 240 his SR season while still running a 4.6 at the NFL Combine. Most memorable play would have to be his 94 yd fumble recovery for a TD versus Vanderbilt in the 4th Quarter, which was nearly identical to his return against Texas A&M in 2009. Hopefully another solid, consistent guy like Franklin can be found for Bielema to rely on in the future. (Brooks Ellis?) Here are some highlights of Franklin.
Career Stats: 2nd All-Time in career tackles with 382, All SEC 2010 and 2011, first player to lead team in tackles for four consecutive seasons since 1960.
Comparing Franklin to linebackers left off the list: Quinton Caver would be a close second, and played on better defenses as a whole but did not put up the same stats. Weston Dacus and Caleb Miller also had impressive careers at Arkansas. Dacus was not able to beat out Freddie Fairchild until he was injured in 2006, and does not have the comparable stats to Franklin. Caleb Miller is top ten in several All-Time categories, but was overshadowed somewhat by Ken Hamlin and Tony Bua - even though Miller was eventually a 3rd round NFL draft pick.
---- Sam Olajubutu 2003-2006- SLB: Butu was an undersized linebacker out of Georgia that played well above any expectations. He made up for the lack of size with a toughness that spread to the rest of the team on both sides of the ball.
Career Stats: 4th All-Time in career tackles with 317, All SEC 2005 and 2006, Bednarik Award Semifinalist, Butkus Award Semifinalist
Comparing Butu to linebackers left of the list: Wendel Davis and Freddie Fairchild are well behind Olajubutu in every statistical category. Fairchild was a Freshmen All-American in 2005 but tore an ACL in 2006, and was kicked off the team in 2008. He may have been the most physically talented LB Arkansas has had in a while, but did not reach full potential like many of Petrino's linebackers.
--- Tony Bua 2000-2003-OLB: Bua was the beginning of the hybrid LB/S and was a force during his career at Arkansas. A tougher player never played for the Hogs and he certainly fit the Arkansas mold of an overachiever. His toughness was evident and no one can forget the late hit penalty on Chris Leak in 2003 against Florida.
It is impossible to leave off this hit by Bua with the Dolphins.
Career Stats: 1st All-Time in Career Tackles with 409, All SEC 2001,2002, 2003.
Comparing Bua to linebackers left off the list: Jerico Nelson also put up solid numbers but did not have anything close to what Bua was able to acomplish in his four years.
What are your biggest memories of these guys and who should have been on the list?