As Arkansas spring football practice begins this Thursday, we continue our series of look-ahead positions for the 2023 Razorbacks.
The Hogs are currently stuck with 76 scholarship players going into the spring ball, leaving nine open spots to fill when the transfer portal reopens in May.
Head coach Sam Pittman’s squad lost a lot in terms of numbers, but few played much during their stay in Fayetteville. Arkansas added the nation’s No. 20 freshman class of 2023 to Rivals with 20 incoming freshmen, and it also added 10 talented transfers from the transfer portal.
Continuing our spring preview with a position group that the Hogs have recently received positive news on – defense tackle…
Recurring: Taurean Carter (redshirt senior), Marcus Miller (redshirt senior), Eric Gregory (redshirt senior) Cameron Ball (redshirt sophomore), Nico Davillier (sophomore)
New arrivals: Ian Geffrard (freshman, enroll after spring)
Big news came Wednesday, when redshirt senior defensive tackle Taurean Carter announced via Twitter that he has been cleared to practice for the Razorbacks.
After starring for the Razorbacks last spring, Carter suffered a knee injury during the third game of the team’s “Spring Showcase” which took place at the Walker Pavilion due to inclement weather.
While head coach Sam Pittman held out hope that Carter could return sometime last season, that never happened. The official injury was never announced, but Carter had surgery and stood on the sidelines wearing his jersey to root his teammates at every game.
“He had a great spring and it’s hard not to have him there,” Pittman said on Aug. 16, 2022. “But he’s accepted his role at this point of being a leader and talking to the younger guys and being a motivational guy in the room. He’s probably the most outspoken guy in our room. He’ll come after them. If he sees them trailing and dragging, he’ll be able to get them pretty good.”
It can be assumed that Carter was in a great position to start on the defensive front for Arkansas last season. This year, he can be deployed as a defensive tackle starter in the spring.
Carter’s best season as a Razorbacks came in 2021, when he totaled 24 tackles, three tackles for loss and a pocket penny. His Pro Football Focus mark of 67.1 over 244 snaps was the second best of any Arkansas defensive lineman.
New defensive coordinator Travis Williams is expected to implement a 4-2-5 base defense, which is new for those on the Arkansas roster. Former defensive coordinator Barry Odom mostly ran with three men during his time in Fayetteville, but that is likely to change this season unless the team is unable to find more players in the transfer portal.
While Williams likes to lead a four-man front, the Razorbacks may not have the depth to do that right away. Carter is back, but the team lost a few starters in Isaiah Nichols (transferred to Purdue) and Terry Hampton (out of eligibility).
That leaves redshirt seniors Marcus Miller and Eric Gregory, along with redshirt sophomore Cam Ball and sophomore Nico Davillier. Of those three, Ball is the prime candidate to join the starting group alongside Carter.
The 6-foot-5, 305-pound tall man was the Hogs’ top-rated interior lineman by PFF last season. He recorded 341 snaps and scored with a 70.5 overall mark and a 75.0 in run defense. Ball accumulated a total of 31 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, one sack and a forced fumble in 2022.
Gregory worked on the edge at times last season, especially when the team was in a three-man front. When they go down to four men, Gregory tends to slide in and will probably have to because of the lack of depth at the tackle position. He played 379 snaps last season and finished with an overall defensive rating of 63.4 after totaling 19 tackles, four TFLs and two sacks.
Miller has been around for a while, but he’s only played a total of 122 snaps and only eight of those came last season. He did have knee reach in fall camp that limited him early on, but he was healthy for most of the season.
Pittman praised Davillier at fall camp last season after injuries quickly threw the four-star freshman into the fire.
“Nico Davillier made some big moves today as a young guy,” said Pittman on August 13, 2022. “He’s going to play for us now. There won’t be a red shirt. I mean, he’s going on the pitch. He’s a good player. “
Davillier played a total of 13 defensive snaps as a freshman and he had a quarterback rush in the win over Auburn. He saw action in every game on special teams, totaling 63 snaps, mostly on the field goal block team.
While defensive line coach Deke Adams and the Hogs are happy with who they have on campus, it’s pretty clear that defensive tackle remains a position of need. Expect the Hogs to target that spot in the transfer portal after the Spring Ball, which has been successful this past season. Arkansas added players like John Ridgeway, Markell Utsey, Tre Williams, Terry Hampton and Jordan Domineck after the spring of the past two seasons.