The Arkansas coaching staff has been great at developing talent during their three seasons in Fayetteville. There’s no arguing what Barry Odom has done so far is nothing short of amazing.
It’s well documented that the Hogs had one of the worst defenses, statistically speaking, in Power Five football from 2016-2019. Ever since Odom stepped on campus, he has squeezed every ounce of talent out of former walk-on’s and seldom used players from that time.
Grant Morgan and Hayden Henry are two former players that had zero impact during the Bielema-Morris years but came alive under Odom. How though? Through competent coaching, extreme motivation and evaluation. Those two had the talent to be overachievers but the teaching wasn’t there until the former Missouri head coach came along.
Another success story of Odom’s is the story of Hudson Clark, the walk-on turned scholarship cornerback out of Highland Park. No one, I mean no one knew his name before 2020 when replacing an injured Busta Brown against Ole Miss. That weird Saturday in Fayetteville, Clark forced three interceptions against star quarterback Matt Corral.
In the press conference after the game, head coach Sam Pittman was very excited about the redshirt freshman’s performance. Pittman was a walking quote machine in 2020 including this one:
“They may not have heard of Hudson Clark before but they have now. Three times at least,” as Pittman grinned.
Another fan favorite was said in the locker room after the victory over Mississippi State in 2020.
“Who we have is all we need.”
Simeon Blair and Isaiah Nichols are other perfect examples of players overachieving. Coming out of Pine Bluff, Blair wasn’t a player that was recruited by many other SEC teams either. The rising redshirt senior has recorded 61 tackles and six passes broken up under Odom. He should improve again this season with more experience and always being in position are a reasons he’s gained trust from the defensive coaches.
Nichols wasn’t expected to be but a role player on the defensive line but has been a starter in 10 games since the 2020 season. He was overshadowed some last season with John Ridgeway, Tre Williams and Markell Utsey in the fold. However, he should be the leader at defensive tackle. The Springdale, Ark. native has produced 45 tackles in two seasons under Odom with four tackles for a loss and one sack. At a good 6’3 302 pounds he should be a factor in stopping the run this fall.
Continuing on with the defensive line there has been a constant group making headway as possible starters going into week one. Fans could expect big things from Zach Williams, Eric Gregory and Jashaud Stewart. They have all been heavy contributors along the line but haven’t been full-time starters since they arrived in Fayetteville. With limited depth along the front Arkansas will need these three and Nichols to step up and lead this season especially with younger guys behind them.
Arkansas is in a good spot with depth. They may be unproven but the staff has a track record of getting the most out of its talent.