FAYETTEVILLE — Michael Scherer is set to begin his first season coaching linebackers at Arkansas and he’s blessed with four seniors.
But even beyond the four seniors there seems to be some good talent. Scherer talked about the depth on Tuesday.
“I feel really good about the depth,” Scherer said. “Heck, part of me is trying to figure out how to get all of them on the field, trying to figure how they all can help us out because we have a lot of good players. You can go 1s, 2s and 3s and all of those guys can play on Saturdays. All of them. And they’ve gotten so much better from last year to the spring to now in fall camp, and they’re still continuing to get better. And it’s just, it eliminates some of the scary situations, like ‘What if this guy goes down what are we going to do?’ It’s easy. I’ve got another guy. So what’s helped a lot with not only the guys who aren’t the starters, is everyone can see how well everyone is doing right now. And so, heck, even Andrew Parker. Grant Morgan watched Andrew Parker practice and Andrew Parker is pushing Grant Morgan every day. So that is making Grant Morgan a better football player.
“Hayden Henry and Bumper Pool are trading back and forth right now. That’s making them both a lot better football players because they’re both competing with each other every single day. You can throw DeDe (Edwards) into that equation. You can throw Jackson Woodard into that equation. And then once the young guys like Chris Paul and Kelin Burrle see that then it just pushes them even harder. So really, the competition in our room kind of works for itself. It makes my job easier, and just the fact they know what the guy behind them is doing them is pushing them to be even better football players. To study more and do everything more. It’s just awesome.”
Among the younger ones are redshirt junior Parker, 6-2, 245, redshirt freshman Woodard, 6-3, 235, and true freshman Paul, 6-1, 240. Senior Grant Morgan talked about those three following Tuesday’s practice.
“A.P, Woody and Pooh and how they play is kind of similar,” Morgan said. “They are all Mikes. They are all kind of guys that can hit well. They can run well. The one thing that I would classify Woody and Pooh, Chris Paul, together is those are two guys that need to continue to mature and continue to grown and continue to get into the book and continue kind of stepping up. And they’ve done it and taken a huge leap this fall camp just from spring to now. They’ve been guys you can see they are writing more notes. You can see what’s going on. Woodard has got that mentality he’s trying to prove everybody wrong that he can play here. So AP, he’s a little bit the guy you can lean on right now. He’s doing really well causing a lot of turnovers. He’s really stepping up. His energy, it’s contagious. So when you see him doing really well and see him going off you can look towards him and say ‘All right That’s fun to be around. That’s fun to play with.’ So those are three guys that are continuing to step up and it’s fun to watch them grow up.”
Henry, another one of Arkansas’ senior linebackers, is also impressed with the trio.
“Those young guys, I love what I see out of those young guys and you can tell they are learning very fast and I love that they bring a lot of energy to practice every day,” Henry said. “They each have their own sort of specialties and bring a different skill set to the table and so its going to be fun to watch them grow and progress as players.”
Scherer talked about what he has seen from Woodard, a walk-on from Little Rock Christian.
“He’s a really hard worker,” Scherer said. “He’s a smart kid. He did a lot of work this offseason to get in better shape and get a little faster, a little quicker and a little stronger. He’s a really smart kid. When you can learn stuff as quickly as he can, you have the opportunity to make some stuff happen and get on the field a little quicker just because you know exactly what you’re doing. He does a good job of spending extra time, studying film and learning the playbook to where I know if I throw him in there, he knows what he’s doing.”
In addition to any linebacker snaps he gets, Woodard is expected to be a key player on special teams.
“For sure,” Scherer said. “He’s going to be a heck of a special teams player, and he’s going to be a good, solid person that adds depth to our room. We have a lot of seniors, and they’re very good football players. Jackson is also very good, and he’ll help us out.”
With the seniors possibly all gone next season Scherer knows it’s important to get the younger linebackers some snaps this season.
“It’s very important,” Scherer said. “We have guys like Andrew Parker, Jackson Woodard, Chris Paul, they’ve all been doing a really good job. They’ve been coming along. Like I said, even though the future is, I don’t want to say scary, but you lose five seniors, that’s a lot of guys. But the good thing is, the seniors I have, they’ve shown those guys the way.
“They’re all good players. The young guys know if they look at them and do what they do, they’re going to have a chance to do exactly what they’ve done. They’ve made my life easier, and it’s easier to push those kids because the young guys know I push the old guys. So, if I’m pushing the old guys, what happens is the old guys push the young guys. They’ve made a lot of progress.”
The fifth linebacker Scherer referred to is Levi Draper, who is getting some practice time at tight end right now, but could be moved back to linebacker. Paul signed with the Razorbacks out of Cordele (Ga.) Crisp County.
“Chris Paul, it’s hard especially at the linebacker position, it’s tough to come in as a high schooler like he did and pick everything up,” Scherer said. “It’s a lot more complicated, a lot more moving parts and life is just different. But Chris did a really good job throughout the spring and changing his body. He came here at like 250, now he’s down to 230 and in much better shape. Moving around a whole lot better. The more he can learn and the more reps he gets this year, the better he’s going to be. I have a lot of faith and confidence that down the road, he’s going to be a really good football player.”
A couple other younger linebackers are redshirt freshmen Burrle, 6-0, 205, and JT Towers, 6-4, 210.
“I think the main thing with Kelin is just continuing to work on his body,” Scherer said. “Like you said, he’s a little light right now. He’s got to continue to grow, continue to work on gaining some weight, and just continue to learn. He’s done a really good job this fall camp actually of learning more than he ever has before. He’s starting to grasp some of the things we’re doing, staring to get an idea of the playbook. Once he does that, once you understand the plays, you can transfer over to understanding the offense. If you don’t understand what you’re supposed to do, it’s harder to look at the offense and say ‘Okay, they’re lined up like that, they’re going to run this play, I’ve got to do this.’ You’re sitting there thinking about what you’ve got to do, you can’t look across the ball and say ‘Oh, it looks like he’s going to go this way.’ You don’t have enough time. So the more he learns, the more he progresses and learns the playbook, that’s going to help him out. But a lot of it has to do with gaining a whole lot of weight for Kelin.
“The same goes with JT. It’s a lot about progressing their bodies, progressing their skills and talents on the field. Eventually they’ll be able to step in and help us.”
Today is an off day for the Hogs. On Thursday, they will practice again and it will be the first day in pads.