Arkansas football took a page out of Eric Musselman‘s playbook on Thursday by breaking out the props at practice to put an extra emphasis on a teaching point. In this case, the defensive backs laced up the boxing gloves before one-on-ones in the red zone against the receivers.
Musselman regularly uses everything from bricks to gardening gloves to hammer home particular areas of focus on the hardwood with the idea that doing something unique will serve to help keep the point at the forefront of his player’s minds.
In fairness to defensive coordinator Barry Odom, this is not a first as he has used things like gloves and blinders with his secondary before, but it was the first time anything like this has made an appearance during fall camp this year. It’s a move that further adds to the intrigue, and hope, the Razorbacks will be better equipped to play more man-to-man coverage in 2022.
“It’s just an emphasis we felt we needed to make,” Odom said. “We’ve got officials at every practice, and you go back and review the practice film. If you’re getting tired, your habits start to slip a little bit. And usually a defensive back when you’re in man coverage, what’s your first reaction? You want to grab a hold, right? It was an emphasis we wanted to make today.”
When the gloves come out on the practice field back in the day, it usually meant there was a score to settle. As Odom joked with media following practice, no punches were at risk of flying, but by taking away the ability of the defensive backs to hold, it forced them to focus more intently on all the other fundamentals of coverage.
“I didn’t think there was going to be a fight. We weren’t getting ready for it,” Odom quipped. “I think it’s something that’s wise to do at a point, because it snaps back your attention and your focus on really your eyes, your feet, your stance, your start and what that’s supposed to look like. That’s one thing that we’ve done for a long time and seen done and I felt it was important for us to break that back out. I can’t argue the calls on the side. It doesn’t do me any good. So we’re just going to try to fix it ourselves.”
The drill served as a valuable experience for the defensive backs, and the next step will be to go back and review the film, which should provide plenty of teachable moments when it comes to stance, footwork, eyes and more.
“It was good for us. I thought it put us a little bit … made it more difficult for us,” Odom said. “But also, we get to teach off of that tape. We’re going to start with stance. We’re going to start with alignment. We’re going to start with eye placement, and then you get into the angles that you ‘re coming out of breaks and where are your eyes.
“Is your chin down? And all the things that go into man-to-man coverage. Take the hands out of it and we’re going to teach everything else with that. It’ll be a beneficial thing for us to teach off of this afternoon and into tonight.”
Veteran safety Simeon Blairwho is in the midst of his fifth fall camp, sees the benefit of the drill and also saw it as an enjoyable change of pace.
“It was a lot of fun today, you know. But it helps you work on really just moving your feet at DB,” Blair said. “And that’s something you’ve got to think of. You can’t play so handsy. You have to more, like, move your feet first and then bring your hands. So I feel like it makes it harder on us most definitely. But it was fun to do it today.”
Arkansas ranked sixth of 14 teams in the SEC in passing defense last season, allowing 213.8 yards per game through the air. The Razorbacks were tied for fourth in the league with 13 interceptions as a team.
Odom credits first-year cornerbacks coach Dominique Bowman with his attention to teaching fundamentals to his position group and has seen improvement in the man-coverage capabilities of the unit, including redshirt junior Hudson Clark,
“I think that’s accurate, but I think they all have,” Odom said when asked about Clark’s strides in man coverage. “Coach Bowman’s done a terrific job with moving them all forward in that area in the fundamentals, the techniques.
“What it takes to play the position is hard. Everybody knows you’re in man-to-man coverage. If the other guy catches it, ‘well that guy can’t cover.’ Well, maybe not. He’s in pretty good shape, there’s some decent quarterbacks and receivers, so we continue to battle. We’ve got to be able to play coverage in that way. I’m excited about the progress that he’s made, but also the group.”