For various reasons, in 2016 the linebackers were arguably the least productive unit on the Razorback defense. Only one of the top-5 tacklers was a linebacker (Brooks Ellis) and he graduated. Dre Greenlaw probably would have been there had he stayed healthy, and the D-Line had plenty tackles of their own before opponents even got to the linebackers.
With the switch to a 3-4 scheme, the faces and responsibilities of the linebackers will be very different than last season. With that in mind, here’s who the Hogs have available at that position.
Arkansas 2017 LBs
|Karl Roesler 6'1" 256 lbs.||Randy Ramsey 6'4" 228 lbs.||De'Jon Harris 6'0" 255 lbs.||Alexy Jean-Baptiste 6'2" 231 lbs.||Kyrei Fisher 6'2" 235 lbs.|
|Dwayne Eugene 6'1" 235 lbs.||Josh Harris 5'10" 239 lbs.||Jamario Bell 6'5" 252 lbs.||Giovanni LaFrance 6'1" 255 lbs.||Josh Paul 6'2" 205 lbs.|
|Dre Greenlaw 6'0" 226 lbs.||Tyler Phillips 6'1" 232 lbs.||Dee Walker 6'2" 208 lbs.||Derrick Munson 6'0" 200 lbs.|
|Michael Taylor II 6'3" 245 lbs.||Damani Carter 6'0" 241 lbs.||Ben Brasuell 6'1" 218 lbs.|
The group has a lot of upperclassmen, but still guys who will need to step up. No one on the list cleared 50 tackles, although Dre Greenlaw certainly would have if he was healthy all season. In 2017, I would expect several linebackers to see an increase in tackles this year.
In the middle is where the biggest increase will likely come. With the linemen trying to take up as much space and allowing the middle linebackers to come up and make the stop. Greenlaw and De’Jon (Scoota) Harris are the projected starters there after the spring. Josh Harris and Grant Morgan should also feature there.
Arkansas’ defense was very feast or famine in 2016. The worst games were when the Hogs got absolutely toasted for huge plays, mostly from the running game. There are still some flashbacks to Darrius Guice running wild keeping me up at night. A failure to keep the edge contained was a big issue, and hopefully a switch to a 3-4 helps in solving that. The role of the outside linebackers will be much more focused on that this season.
The Hog linebacker (strong side) will likely have Karl Roesler to start first. One of the few seniors of the group will have a much bigger role this season. The strong side linebacker will be closer to a lineman than one dropping back in coverage. Michael Taylor and Jamario Bell, who was recently converted to linebacker, will also fill that role.
The Razor, or weak side, linebacker is more of a hybrid being asked to do more like dropping into coverage and protecting the weak side. Randy Ramsey is dropping back from the defensive line to this position and with his size and speed it should be a better fit for him. Dwayne Eugene will also be on the field quite a bit in the same spot. For the class of 2017, Arkansas has three outside linebackers committed. The one with the best chance to find his way on is Kyrei Fisher. He was an early enrollee and played in a 3-4 at Union High School in Tulsa.
Overall, the linebackers are the biggest question mark of the defense. There are probably going to be times, especially early, when assignments are missed and lead to big plays. You don’t need to be told that’s going to suck. There are also probably going to be some games where everything clicks and the unit works together magnificently. The key is going to be which of those comes more often than the other.