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HawgBeat's Preseason Burning Questions: Base defense under Barry Odom

Kendal Briles and Barry Odom are in their first seasons as Arkansas' offensive and defensive coordinator, respectively.
Kendal Briles and Barry Odom are in their first seasons as Arkansas' offensive and defensive coordinator, respectively. (Arkansas Athletics)

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The status of the 2020 college football season remains perilous as we inch closer to - at least what is scheduled to be - Week 1.

As of this moment, Arkansas is still set to open the Sam Pittman era against Nevada on Sept. 5 in Fayetteville. That could change if the SEC follows the Big Ten’s lead and shifts to a conference-only schedule.

However, for the time being, HawgBeat is treating it as everything is moving forward as planned. That includes the start of NFL-style OTAs - which are essentially walk-through practices - for the Razorbacks on July 24.

Leading up to that date, we are revealing our 10 “burning questions” surrounding Arkansas as it prepares for what everyone hopes to be a fall football season. Next up…

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What will Arkansas use as its base defense?

On a teleconference back in mid-April, that was the first thing asked to defensive coordinator Barry Odom by local reporters.

About a week earlier, linebacker Grant Morgan said the Razorbacks would have a 3-2-6 base defense - a variation of the 3-3 that replaced one of the linebackers with another defensive back in what is referred to as the dime.

Instead of confirming that, Odom’s response to the question only added further confusion. Although he acknowledged there were times he ran an odd stack at Memphis, Odom referenced multiple times that most of his background involved a four-man front.

Looking back at his answer, he didn’t really provide much clarity. There were several coaching buzzwords and cliches - “we’re going to be really multiple” and “get the best 11 on the field” - but no definitive answer.

That could be because Odom has spent the last three years as an SEC head coach and mastered the art of coach-speak. That would most likely be the case in a normal year, but 2020 has been far from normal.

Arkansas missed out on all 15 of its spring practices because of the pandemic and the team has been limited to only virtual meetings the last several months. Odom has yet to get his new players on the field and see where they might fit best.

At least on paper, a dime base defense makes sense because the Razorbacks have quite a bit of talent in the secondary. They have six four-star defensive backs and that doesn’t even include returning starters Jarques McClellion and Joe Foucha, an experienced Myles Mason or graduate transfer Jerry Jacobs.

Furthermore, there appears to be a lack of depth at linebacker once again. It’ll probably come down to how good Odom feels about his depth on the defensive line.

Dorian Gerald is back after missing almost all of last season with a bizarre neck injury, so he figures to be a starter at one of the defensive end spots. Mataio Soli and Zach Williams got quite a bit of playing time as freshmen and Arkansas is probably hoping they make a big jump as sophomore.

After redshirting last season, Eric Gregory could provide some depth there, but will Julius Coates be able to contribute immediately as a JUCO transfer? What about a freshman like Jashaud Stewart?

On the interior, Xavier Kelly is a graduate transfer from Clemson and former heralded recruit the Razorbacks are counting on making an impact. Jonathan Marshall is the strongest player on the team and seems like a good candidate for a breakout senior season.

A trio of redshirt freshmen - Taurean Carter, Enoch Jackson Jr. and Marcus Miller - and the continued development of Isaiah Nichols might be the deciding factor on whether or not Odom goes with a three- or four-man front.

Until we have more clarity on this, it's hard to even put together a predicted depth chart on that side of the ball.

HawgBeat's Preseason Burning Questions

1. Has Feleipe Franks developed chemistry with the wide receivers/tight ends?

2. What will Arkansas use as its base defense?

3. Which second-team wide receiver will step up?

4. How will the secondary shape up?

5. How will the offensive line shape up?

6. Where will the graduate transfers fit on the depth chart?

7. What will Arkansas’ depth look like at tight end?

8. Will any of Arkansas’ true freshman contributors from last season experience a sophomore slump?

9. Who will be Arkansas’ starting punter?

10. Which redshirt freshmen will emerge as contributors in 2020?