FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ Chris Smith and Trey Flowers formed one of the Southeastern Conference’s most productive defensive end duos during their first season as full-time starters in 2012.
Smith ranked fourth in the SEC with 9 1/2 sacks, while Flowers was tied for ninth with six. Each had 13 tackles for losses, too, which was tied for fifth in the SEC.
It was a good season, but Smith is convinced they can do better in 2013.
“One thing I tell Trey is let’s try to beat the numbers from last year,” Smith said Thursday. “We did have a good year, but one thing we’re trying to do is just have consistent pressure on the quarterback every time.”
The duo will continue building toward that goal when they take part in Arkansas’ second spring scrimmage in Razorback Stadium today. The Razorbacks have decided to open the scrimmage up to the public and Arkansas’ defensive ends hope to make an impression as they move closer to the Red-White Game on April 20.
Fans in attendance won’t get to see Smith and Flowers crushing quarterbacks, who are off limits for contact in practice and scrimmage sessions. But defensive coordinator Chris Ash said there’s no doubt the pass rushing duo will be counted on to produce in the fall as Arkansas builds its defense around a veteran defensive line.
“They were very productive and I’m hoping they’re going to be very productive players for us this year,” Ash said. “They have to be for us to be able to get the type of pass rush we’re going to need in this league.”
Smith and Flowers, like the rest of their teammates, are spending the spring getting used to what Arkansas’ new coaching staff expects. There has been a big emphasis on defensive line play, which was a staple of Bielema’s success at Wisconsin.
Arkansas knows Smith and Flowers have the speed and athleticism to get to the quarterback after their production last season. But defensive line coach Charlie Partridge is working to make them better all-around players this spring.
So there has been an extra emphasis on fundamentals and technique through the first half of spring practice. Flowers said it has been valuable in his development.
“I kind of started off thinking about it too much early on, but now I’m just getting the hang of it and making it second nature and just playing football,” Flowers said.
Partridge has stressed other areas of importance off the practice field. One in particular: He wants them in his office regularly, reviewing film of previous practices and studying the strengths of successful NFL defensive ends.
Smith — who said it’s easy to listen to Partridge because he coached the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in Houston’s J.J. Watt at Wisconsin — said Arkansas has always done its share of film study. But Partridge has taken it to a new level.
“He’s a film junkie and he’s turning everybody into film junkies,” Smith said.
Partridge said it’s all part of the process of preparing his defensive line for the 2013 season. He’s working with a group that returns four starters from last season, including two ends that found a way to get into the backfield last season.
Partridge said their experience has been felt this spring as the building begins.
“To have some guys that understand what it's like when the bullets are flying is huge,” Partridge said. “You get into a scrimmage situation and the offense makes a play, there's no panic. They're able to come back and regroup the guys on the next play and that showed up last Saturday and it showed up again on Tuesday. The offense had a nice drive, came back out on the field and the defense regrouped and those guys were a big part of that rally call.”
It’s a responsibility Flowers and Smith are eager to take on the rest of the spring.
They realize their performance can be key to Arkansas’ defensive success in 2013.
“It’s going to be whatever we make it,” Flowers said. “We’re just going to embrace it and go out there and make plays and do what we know we can do.”