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Arkansas Football 2018 Preview: Defensive Line

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John Chavis’ Defenses are known for sacks. Can He do the same for Arkansas?

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Arkansas Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Main Returners

  • McTelvin Agim (Jr, 6’3” 279 lbs.)
  • Jamario Bell (Jr, 6’5” 253 lbs.)
  • Austin Capps (Jr, 6’4” 311 lbs.)
  • Jonathan Marshall (So. 6’3” 301 lbs.)
  • Randy Ramsey (sr. 6’4” 236 lbs.)
  • Gabe Richardson (Jr, 6’3” 240 lbs.)
  • T.J. Smith (Jr, 6’3” 304 lbs.)
  • Armon Watts (Sr, 6’5” 298 lbs.)

Newcomers

  • Courtre Alexander (Fr, 6’5” 239 lbs.)
  • Billy Ferrell (Fr, 6’3” 343 lbs.)
  • Nicholas Fulwider (Fr, 6’7” 260 lbs.)
  • Dorian Gerald (Jr. 6’3” 260 lbs.)
  • Griffin Hunt (Fr, 6’4” 222 lbs.)
  • Isaiah Nichols (Fr, 6’3” 273 lbs.)

Who Else

  • Briston Guidry (So. 6’2” 292 lbs.)
  • Elias Hale (So, 6’4” 237 lbs.)
  • Deion Malone (Sr, 6’3” 293 lbs.)
  • David Porter (rFr, 6’3” 263 lbs.)
  • Michael Taylor II (Sr. 6’2” 248 lbs.)

One Big Question: Can They Improve Their Sack Numbers?

Last season, Arkansas was dead last in the SEC in sacks. The numbers in S&P+ were even worse. The DL Havoc Rate (Plays that result in a tackle for loss, fumble, or an intercepted or broken up pass) was just 3.3%, which was 102nd in FBS. Of Arkansas’ 19 sacks last year, only eight were from defensive lineman. This is not including Randy Ramsey’s three sacks since he played as a linebacker in last year’s 3-4 scheme.

Enter John Chavis, whose Texas A&M defense led the SEC in sacks a season ago. No Armani Watts and Landis Durham aren’t on this defense, don’t go penciling in anyone for double digit sacks, but there is talent to work with. McTelvin Agim and Randy Ramsey have proven themselves as SEC quality linemen, Jamario Bell had a big spring, Dorian Gerald comes in has the highest rated JUCO in the country, and both TJ Smith and Briston Guidry both showed flashes in the second half of 2017.

Last year, Arkansas’ defense was horrendous (112th in Defensive S/P+) and there isn’t a major influx of talent to make for an overnight fix. The fix needs to come from a change in scheme and using the most talented players in advantageous positions. Last year’s 3-4 scheme led to some fixes that allowed Dre Greenlaw and De’Jon Harris to do positive things, but left massive holes elsewhere, especially with the playmaking ability of the defensive line. Chavis’ biggest task is going to be allowing Greenlaw and Harris to continue their success while giving the defensive line more success.

When counting Ramsey as a linebacker, Arkansas had just one defensive lineman in their top-10 in tackles. There is no good reason for that to be happening. Arkansas’ defense needs more of defensive linemen making plays in the backfield or stuffing runs (oh yeah they were 129th in stuff rate last year...out of 130). Chavis is going to have his work cut out for him getting the most out of this group. He has pieces to be successful, but potential and production are two different things.