5NEWS Sports Bobby Swofford sat down with Arkansas coach Bret Bielema to talk the Hogs’ defense and what kind of improvements fans can expect under first year defensive coordinator Robb Smith.
You can catch part one of the series, an in-depth look at the offense here.
Bobby Swofford: Last year you said the defense needs to be more physical, more aggressive. How is that transition taking place?
Bret Bielema: I like the way that they’re going. Without a doubt, I think Robb Smith brought in a complexity of the defense that tried to simplify by being complicated. Trying to make our players understand that if they can show a few things differently and play a little bit differently then they can really confuse a quarterback but I’m excited about this group. They are playing extremely confident. They have done a very, very good job of taking in Hoganese and communicating with each other one on one and I think that just makes them play faster.
BS: So many different defensive coordinators in such a short period of time can mess with a lot of guys. How are they adjusting and the fact he does run a more simple system, does that make it easier?
BB: I think that if you only have just a few, quick transitions it is very reactionary but these guys are so used to it. ‘Hey, what’s this guy going to sell?’ What’s great is, we have a guy that really knows what he’s talking about,, the transition becomes that much easier under coach Smith because he came from the Buccaneers. He’s able to sell that NFL experience and about how it’s going to help them.
BS: Is it as simple to say, on the defensive side, it’s Trey Flowers, it’s Darius Philon, guys like that are going to make that unit go?
BB: Well, they’re good players. You definitely hope for them to be good players in critical situations but I think the linebackers are much more improved. Our safeties are improved. I think our corner play might be the most improved position on our team so I’m excited to see those things come together.
BS: Brooks Ellis made a big step forward last year but there are a lot of guys that you’ve heard about for a couple years. Is it their time to shine and step up what they’ve got?
BB: I think Martrell (Spaight) was the most improved linebacker over from the fall to the spring. He’s a very gifted football player. He’s very dynamic and has the ability to whack you pretty good, play physical but he can also run. Brooks (Ellis) made a great jump, I think, in his football IQ. Understanding the Mike linebacker position and we’ve got three freshmen that came in that I’m excited to see them get on the field.
BS: The secondary is the one fans like to point at and say ‘that’s why the defense has struggled’. Obviously there is a lot more to that. What steps have you made in the back end to kind of sure up some issues?
BB: I think those are the guys that needed overall confidence. We’ve been trying to give them that, give them tools to be confident. It’s one thing, you can’t just tap a kid on the head and say ‘go be confident’. You have to give them a reason why he can be confident and that’s what we’ve done. We’ve been able to give them tools, a toolbox that allows him to play a certain way and as that comes out, his confidence level spikes. As his confidence level spikes, so does his productivity.
BS: On an individual basis, how have you seen them grow since you started watching this program?
BB: Just the way they do things. There has been growth in the classroom. There has been growth in the way they handle themselves away from the game. A lot of times that directly carries over to the field. They played so much more effectively in the spring. You see some guys rally around them and have some cheers that were the positive cheers that I think really did a lot of good for them.