The Arkansas Razorbacks struggled to a massively disappointing 2012 season, finishing just 4-8 and 2-6 in SEC play. That prompted Bret Bielema to be brought in as the new head coach and begin rebuilding the Razorbacks into an SEC contender. One area that Bielema’s staff may not have too much trouble rebuilding is at safety where Arkansas may actually enjoy some options.
They will be led by redshirt sophomore, Rohan Gaines, who stepped in last season when the secondary was hit with some key injuries in a major way. He finished the year No. 2 on the team in tackles, recording 75 in 12 games to go along with four pass breakups and a forced fumble. He’s the leading returning tackler on the team for 2013 and stands to become an even bigger playmaker in the defense this fall.
New defensive coordinator Chris Ash has been extremely impressed with what he’s seen from the young safety so far this spring. Ash wants his safeties to be field generals of the defense with the ability to make adjustments and move players into the right spots given the different looks they will see from offenses next season. So far, Gaines has done an excellent job.
He’ll be joined in the deep secondary by senior Eric Bennett and JUCO transfer Tiquention Coleman. Bennett accounted for 40 tackles last season with three pass breakups, but struggled to stay on the field with injuries. Coleman comes with a reputation as an excellent run stuffer with solid instincts for the position. If Bennett can stay healthy and Coleman successfully transitions up from junior college, Arkansas figures to have excellent depth at safety next season.
When Ash came to Arkansas, he says he heard nothing but negativity about the state of the safety position. As spring practice continues to roll towards their first scrimmage on Saturday, he’s been pleasantly surprised by the talent level and work ethic of his top three guys who will be key contributors to the success of the defense in 2013. Can they keep it up through the fall?