Four Downs: Arkansas Searching For Middle Linebacker


1. Who Is The Mike?

The Arkansas coaching staff is trying to find which players fit best at what positions this spring. One of the early areas of concern appears to be at middle linebacker.

Defensive coordinator Chris Ash said the Razorbacks have continued to work a handful of players at middle linebacker through eight practices. So far, no one has jumped up and taken charge at the position.

“There a lot of things we look out of that position,” Ash said. “Unfortunately, all the guys bring something different of those characteristics, and we're trying to find a guy that can eventually fit all those things.”

Ash said Robert Atiga, Daunte Carr and Otha Peters have gotten most of the work at middle linebacker this spring. He called the results a “work in progress.”

Middle linebacker was a trouble spot for Arkansas in 2012. Four players started games at the position. Tenarius Wright and Alonzo Highsmith were sidelined by injuries, while Terrell Williams was suspended after an arrest.

Peters started the final three games at middle linebacker last season. Atiga worked with the scout team last season, while Carr appeared in one game.

All three will have another chance to impress when the Razorbacks line up for their second spring scrimmage on Saturday.

“We’re looking for a guy that can be really the general of the defense,” Ash said Thursday. “A guy that has a good understanding of the schemes, a guy that can get things right when we need it, a guy that can be a leader. … And we need a physical guy right down the middle of your defense. Just like your D-tackles, you need some big physical guys at the mike linebacker position. You need a big, physical mike linebacker to be able to take on blocks, to be able to take on fullbacks.”

2. Nice Gift

Arkansas defensive line coach Charlie Partridge received an unexpected gift earlier this week. Houston Texans defensive end JJ Watt, who was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press, sent Partridge an iPad mini as a thank you present for his work with the NFL star while he was at Wisconsin.

“I thought it was something my wife was sending back to me,” Partridge said Thursday. “She borrowed my GPS. So I rip it open and don’t look at the label and J.J. sent me an iPad mini just as a thank you.”

Patridge took a photo of the gift and posted it on his Twitter page. The back of the iPad mini was engraved with a Texans logo and said “Thank You! DPOY JJ Watt”

“I called him and said, ‘J.J. you didn’t have to do that. You know I don’t ever expect anything from you,’” Partridge said. “And typical J.J., he said ‘Coach, I would’ve sent you more, but I know you would not have taken it. And this is something your daughters can play with too.’”

3. Set Back

Ash was asked how much of a setback linebacker A.J. Turner’s wrist injury is this spring. He didn’t hesitate in saying “a big one.”

“A really big one,” Ash said. “This is a big spring for him with a new coaching staff, new terminology, and to miss the time he's missed, it's going to hurt him.”

Ash called it a “big mental spring” for Turner as he tries to grasp Arkansas’ schemes and plans while nursing the broken wrist. He has taken part in some non-contact work, but didn’t participate in last Saturday’s scrimmage.

“He's going to go through walk throughs, but what he learns in the meeting room, he's got to go out and apply in the walk throughs and get those mental reps,” Ash said. “He's got to do a great job with concentration when other guys are out there and he's not and in tune to the calls and what's going on and what's being coached.

“But any time a guy like him needed a bring spring, and he can't get it, it hurts.”

4. Smith Football Center

The new Arkansas football facility is close to having its official name.

The Arkansas Board of Trustees Building and Grounds committee unanimously recommended a resolution to name the facility as the Fred W. Smith Football Center on Thursday. The full Board of Trustees will formally vote on the committee’s recommendation today. It’s likely to be approved.

Smith is the chairman of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, which issued a $10 million challenge grant to help raise funds for the 80,000-square foot facility. Construction is scheduled be completed this summer.

“As I have become more and more acquainted with Fred W. Smith it is apparent to me in our conversations he and his family are extremely proud of the University of Arkansas and all it represents,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said in a news release. “They have been long-time fervent advocates of the Razorbacks and the entire state. He is a man of few words and lots of action and his generosity has once again demonstrated a strong devotion to our mission of winning championships.

“I am a big believer in preparing student-athletes for football and for life and I am pleased to associate Fred W. Smith’s name with the facility that will amplify our focus in these areas for countless future Razorbacks.”

— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau