It’s been a long time since anyone on the Hill has been able to say that the Razorbacks have quality depth at linebacker. It seems that the previous coaching staff had just looked over the position, and as a result, Coach Sam Pittman’s team has been depleted for quite a while. Thanks to the free season provided by the NCAA and COVID, Arkansas returns a strong group of linebackers withSEC experience, along with a few newcomers who are sure to make waves in spring camp.
The week after Christmas 2020, it felt like the Hog faithful kept getting surprised with the announcements of seniors returning for one more run with second-year head coach Sam Pittman and Co. The biggest piece of that puzzle was Grant Morgan, who chose to return after what seemed to be his biggest breakout season yet.
The former walk-on out of Greenwood, Arkansas led the linebacker group for the entire year, and throughout the season amassed 111 tackles, to go along with two sacks and a clutch pick six against Ole Miss that sealed the win for the Razorbacks.
Morgan will be the undoubted leader of the linebacker corps in 2021, and should the opportunity arise, would probably take a shot at the NFL if given the opportunity.
Another big piece of the puzzle returning is Hayden Henry. Henry has Razorback football running in his veins, with his brother Hudson playing tight end for the Hogs, and his older brother Hunter going from the Razorbacks to the Los Angeles Chargers. If you haven’t heard of Hunter, here’s a play to remind you of how important he was to the Razorback program:
Hayden played some valuable minutes for the defense in 2020, and while he has flown under the radar, it is likely that he makes the same jump that Grant Morgan made in 2020. He made some pivotal plays in the all-SEC schedule last year, including a 3rd down sack against Auburn that stalled out a drive and allowed the Razorbacks to come back and have a chance to win (Should have won, but Marc Curles had other plans. We know how it goes.)
While he’s not a returning senior, the importance of Bumper Pool to this defense cannot be overestimated. Aside from the coolest name in the NCAA, he has played above the level that anyone could have imagined. In 2020, he accounted for 101 tackles, 40 solo. He and Grant Morgan both put it all on the line for the Hogs in 2020, often times playing hurt. Pool battled with rib injuries for what seemed like the entire season, and still gave everything he had to keep the defense strong.
New Hogs on The Hill
The 2021 recruiting class saw the addition of three different linebackers, and while it’s unusual for freshmen to see the field for a significant period of time, they will add depth for years beyond 2021.
Christopher “Pooh” Paul Jr.
Christopher Paul comes out of Crisp County, Georgia. The 6’1”, 235 pound linebacker was a three-star recruit by 24/7 Sports, and chose the Hogs over offers from Akron and Nebraska. As a high school senior, he totaled 82 tackles, 24 of those for loss, along with a forced fumble.
Coming into Fayetteville, Paul has the size to play with the big boys, and it is believed that he will make an impact early on for the Razorbacks.
It is always important to put up a fence around Arkansas in recruiting. Compared to other states like Georgia, Texas, or Louisiana, Arkansas does not put out nearly as much Power 5 talent year in and year out. So it is really important to get the ones who are in Arkansas to Fayetteville. Marco Avant is one of those guys that will turn into a homegrown talent.
Avant comes from Forrest City, Arkansas, which sits in Eastern Arkansas. Avant held offers from the Hogs, Arkansas State, and Houston. As a senior, he finished with 98 tackles, 7 of those for loss, to go along with 5 sacks and a forced fumble. His play reminds me a lot of Dre Greenlaw, not necessarily in technique, but as a guy who just wants to hit somebody. If he keeps the same tenacity that Greenlaw did, he could find his way onto an NFL roster after his career with the Hogs comes to a close.
If you follow Jermaine on Twitter, he was one of the bigger recruiters from the 2021 recruiting class. The 6’1”, 195 lb. outside linebacker from Kansas City was one of the first to jump on board for the Hogs, and never wavered in his commitment to the Hogs. As a senior, he played football at Lincoln Prep. He held offers from a group of Big 12 schools in Iowa State, Kansas State, and Kansas.
His final year of high school, Jordan totaled 91 tackles, 17 of those for loss, along with four sacks and two pass break-ups. He primarily played in coverage, and has quickness and speed that will translate well to the next level. Look for Jermaine to become a key contributor for the Hogs in the next few years.
Heading Into Spring Football
It is no question that a lack of quality depth hurt the Hogs in 2020. That can be expected when you are coming off of back-to-back two win seasons. But the Hogs have a lot to be excited for, and a main part of that has been the seniors and players who have opted back in for 2021.
With the depth that the Hogs are set to have across the board this season, they are ready to make waves in the all-powerful SEC West. The best way to do that is by upgrading the defense. In an era of college football where plenty of offenses are able to score at will, it will take a stout defense, led by Barry Odom, to level the playing field and give the Hogs a chance to compete.