FAYETTEVILLE -- Last season Santos Ramirez started seven games at strong safety for the Arkansas Razorbacks and DeAndre Coley started six.
The competition for the starting strong safety job has carried over to spring practice.
RETURNING STARTERS Josh Liddell (13 starts in 2016), DeAndre Coley (6)
KEY LOSSES None
WHO'S BACK Santos Ramirez (7), Reid Miller, Deon Edwards, Micahh Smith, Ryder Lucas.
WHO'S NEW Brenden Young
ANALYSIS There aren't any potential All-SEC performers among the safeties, but there are solid players with experience. Liddell has 25 career starts and Coley and Ramirez split time last season. The safeties will be asked to provide more run support in the 3-4 scheme and Coley and Ramirez are both big hitters. Edwards and Smith redshirted last season and need to progress throughout the spring, summer workouts and fall camp to provide quality depth.
"If there's a position we've got with great competition taking place at right now, I'd say it'd be strong safety," defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said. "They're both getting equal reps for the most part."
Coley, a senior, started the final four games and has been first on the field with the starters this spring. He had 37 tackles, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries in 2016.
Ramirez, a redshirt junior, had 43 tackles along with a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown against Florida. He also had two pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
Rhoads said Coley and Ramirez will both get first-team work during Saturday's first spring scrimmage, and he praised them for having a mature approach to the competition and helping each other improve.
"You'd think they're best friends," Rhoads sad. "It's the team, the team, the team is the most important thing.
"That's very pleasing to me, to see guys out there working like that and not overly concerned with who's the 1 and who's the 2.
"They're just both working to get better and it's showing in their level of play."
Coach Bret Bielema had Coley sit out a few plays last Saturday because of an over-aggressive hit.
Coley -- who was ejected from the Texas A&M and Ole Miss games for targeting last season -- had a big hit on tight end Hayden Johnson in practice.
"It's a learning curve," Rhoads said. "It was our first day in pads and our first day of teaching and how we practice in pads to help their teammates out and keep our football team healthy."
Rhoads said Coley wasn't taking the right angle or finishing the tackle properly.
"I don't want that to reflect that he was being a dirty player or unsportsmanlike," Rhoads said. "He was just needing to be taught. So the fact he got thrown off the field maybe was my fault. I didn't do a good enough job of teaching.
"We haven't had a guy thrown off the field since then, so I think they understand better."
Junior Josh Liddell is entrenched at free safety as Coley and Ramirez compete for the No. 1 job at strong safety. Liddell started every game last year and had 63 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 pass breakups and a forced fumble.
"We have a veteran group, guys who have played a lot of good football in the SEC," Liddell said. "We feel very confident going into this year."
Switching to a 3-4 defensive alignment has meant shifting up front among the defensive linemen and linebackers, but there are also new responsibilities for the safeties.
"I'm playing more of a center fielder in the 3-4," Liddell said. "I'm more in the middle so I can help on both sides."
Rhoads said the safeties are expected to be more involved in run defense based on calls and formations.
"They could be primary run stopper based on some of the stuff we're doing," Rhoads said. "I'm talking about a guy that's expected to be able to make a tackle within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage.
"It's probably going to happen with more frequency than what we've done in the past."
Others safeties of note include junior Reid Miller and redshirt freshmen Deon Edwards and Micahh Smith.
"I think they're working hard to understand new assignments and what needs to take place and their responsibility and role in that," Rhoads said. "Through five practices we've gotten done so far, I think they've improved quite a bit from that first day to where we are now in making sure we're aligned properly and have a chance to execute."
Sports on 04/07/2017
Print Headline: Safety net needed in 3-4 setup