Defensive Line May Be Biggest Question Mark on Team

By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE — Much like wide receiver on offense, the defensive line saw a lot of its key players run out of eligibility or leave for professional football a year early following a 9-4 season.

Even an injury to one of the key members of the 2022 defensive line, Taurean Carter’s knee, has made this an area that Sam Pittman is hoping maximizes the talent they have. And once again for the third time under Pittman the unit has a new coach, Deke Adams, in charge.

“I really don’t have any concern,” Pittman said. “Well, yeah I do. We’ve got to find a pass-rusher out of that group. Pass rushers don’t have to be edge guys. They can rush the passer from inside, as well. Trust me, I’ve had to block a lot of them in this league. We went out, we were fortunate enough to get Landon Jackson. Dorian Gerald coming back would have somewhat of an answer there, as well. I think the guys we have as well in Zach (Williams) and Stew (Jashaud Stewart) and some of those guys on the edge. Eric Thomas had a better one. Jordan Domineck is a guy that we specifically went out to help us at that position, but to rush the quarterback. He wasn’t here. So, that one. Jackson wasn’t healthy. He is now. Dorian Gerald wasn’t healthy. He is now. So, we’ll see if some of those guys can help us rush the passer. I feel like we can.”

The key losses inside on the defensive line have been John Ridgeway leaving a year early for the Dallas Cowboys and then the knee injury on the third play of the April 16 scrimmage to Carter, who was enjoying by far his best spring at Arkansas.

“On the inside, I’ve been really pleased with Terry Hampton,” Pittman said. “I think he’s got good explosion. He’s not very tall. He’s got built-in leverage. And certainly Taylor Lewis had a good summer, too. But losing Taurean for a while definitely hurt us. Isaiah Nichols took over the leadership role in that room. I think Deke Adams has done a really good job of going out and recruiting. So, we’ll see what we have. That’s probably the most – even more so than wide receiver in my opinion – that’s probably the group where you go, ‘Okay, we need some things to happen.’ We think that we have the people for it to happen, but probably that’s the biggest question mark possibly on the team. But I’m very confident about that group. I think we’ve done a nice job of developing the ones we have and throwing a few more out of the portal in there.”

Hampton is from El Dorado and came over as a grad transfer from Arkansas State. Jackson came from LSU, Domineck from Georgia Tech and Taylor from College of the Canyons (Calif.). As Pittman noted the only one of the four at Arkansas during the spring was Jackson and he was injured much of the time. Pittman was asked for an update on the injured Carter.

“TC will be in camp,” Pittman said. “He’ll be in camp, but that doesn’t mean that he’s going to be active in camp. But we felt like it was important that he come into camp, be a part of the team, be a part of the meetings, be a part of practice. Not that he’s going to be able to practice, yet. But we felt like that was important.”

Redshirt junior Eric Gregory is back and at 6-foot-4, 302-pounds, is someone who is versatile where he plays. He was at defensive end in the spring, but isn’t limited to that spot according to Pittman.

“Yeah. Eric’s got a lot of value for us because he certainly can play end when we’re in our three-down line,” Pittman said. “In a four-down configuration, he certainly can play inside as well. So he’s got a lot of value there, just because he’s worked so hard and he’s strong and he can run. I do think there will be some definite experimentation with him inside and outside.”

Redshirt freshman Cam Ball, 6-5, 313, is someone who was very heavily recruited out of Georgia. Ball redshirted last season, but is someone who the staff expects to make huge impact this fall.

“Well he has got to step up,” Pittman said. “Right now he will be one on the depth chart. He’s got to step up and be that guy. Obviously we went out and got Tay Lewis and Terry Hampton. Marcus Miller has got to come on. It’s his year. His knee is healthy now. Cam has got to step up. He worked his butt off down there on the scout team last year. Got knocked around and knocked around a few. But it’s his year. He has got the physical tools. He has got the size and he has got the strength. I think he will be a fine player for us, but we need him to. He will be starting for us in the four-down. He wouldn’t be that starter right now in the three-down look.”

Arkansas will hit the practice fields on Friday for the first time. The Hogs open the season on Saturday, Sept. 3, at home against Cincinnati. The kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. and it will be televised on ESPN.

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