The best recruiting class yet for Bret Bielema, and more than handful will affect the team in this, their first year.
FAYETTEVILLE - Mixing of young and old. It's the key to any sustained success in college football. Older, experienced players carry a bulk of the load. New players keep them fresh and build momentum for future seasons. The whole thing is a cycle.
Arkansas will finds itself in such a position ahead of the 2016 season. The Razorbacks are likely to start six seniors on defense and perhaps another six on offense. They'll also have probably two or three never-started players on offense and one or two on defense. The formula traditionally works.
Even outside the starters, youth's biggest benefit generally comes in the reserves. Freshmen and junior-college transfers who can hop in during a pickle or in a pinch and give the old heads a rest here or there with only minimal drop-off. Question is who are those players going to be?
Coach Bret Bielema pointed to a couple during his second press conference of fall camp Wednesday. He also hinted a few possible redshirts.
McTelvin Agim will be the former, not the latter. Same for Devwah Whaley. But those two - both top five recruits in the country at their positions (defensive end and running back) - are the easy ones. Both will see regular reps, if not be starters by season's end.
A good chunk of those three-star players are usually the ones with the questions in year one.
Linebacker De'Jon Harris appears to be a player his first year on campus as a freshman. Britto Tutt, at cornerback, has made a jump into the mix as a reserve. Harris is actually in the mix as the first back-up linebacker behind four-year starter Brooks Ellis in the middle and Tutt is in-line for a top six cornerback job on a team that rolls three cornerbacks more than three-quarters of the time.
"Really, the last two days and including this morning, I think he's kind of caught on to the system a little bit," defensive coordinator Robb Smith said of Tutt. "He's made some plays out there. He's flashed. His name has come up a couple times in the staff meeting, which is always a positive."
Offensively, the rotations are harder to crack. Offensive linemen don't typically substitute out like defensive linemen, so Paul Ramirez and Deion Malone, a pair of junior-college transfers, may not get the same run as their teammates on the opposite side of the ball. Wide receiver Jordan Jones and fullback Hayden Johnson, however, are stating their individual claims.
Johnson, in fact, has grabbed hold of the No. 1 fullback job and ran away with it. Others are working out at the position, including walk-on Justice Hobbs, but Johnson is the only true fullback on the 105-man roster. Bielema has been impressed.
"I think the guy that's kind of made a statement on his own is Hayden Johnson," Bielema said. "He's going to play and he's going to play well. For a guy that's played a lot of D-Line, he catches the ball well out in the flat. Does a lot of nice things with the ball in his hands. Yesterday we ran quite a few series of inside drill and he just got after people, our No. 1 defense, pretty good."
Safeties Micahh Smith and Deon "Dede" Edwards are third on the depth chart there, unlikely to play in their first year. Alexy Jean-Baptiste and Dee Walker at linebacker could see time sparingly, but remain candidates to redshirt. Tight end Greyson Gunter and offensive lineman Jake Heinrich are likely to redshirt this season, as well, Bielema suggested Wednesday.
But as for this recruiting class compared to previous ones, Bielema stays excited.
"They look completely different than when we first got here."
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