Third in a series previewing positions for the University of Arkansas: Cornerbacks/nickel backs
FAYETTEVILLE -- Jerry Jacobs pulled off a rare feat last winter when the Arkansas State University defensive back transferred as a graduate student to the University of Arkansas.
There have been some coaches who have worked at both schools -- Gus Malzahn, Steve Caldwell and Kevin Peoples come to mind of recent vintage -- but football players who have pulled off the Arkansas twofer are rare.
Jacobs, a product of South Cobb High in suburban Atlanta, had a couple of strong pulls that helped him trade one corner of the state for another.
Returning starters Montaric Brown (10 starts in 2019), Jarques McClellion (11), NB Greg Brooks Jr. (12)
Who's back LaDarrius Bishop (1), Devin Bush, Malik Chavis, Jordon Curtis
Who's new Jerry Jacobs (transfer), Khari Johnson, Nick Turner
Walk-ons Hudson Clark, Jon Conley
Analysis The Razorbacks have got to be better at minimizing big plays and not getting beaten deep, and that starts with improved play at cornerback. The starting corners and nickels accounted for just three of the team’s six interceptions, one each for Brown, Brooks and McClellion. Arkansas would like to create pressure with just four-man rushes, but for coordinator Barry Odom to feel comfortable sending blitzers, the corners will have to hold up. All of the cornerbacks need to be better tacklers.
His former junior-college head coach Rion Rhoades was brought aboard by Coach Sam Pittman to handle the linebackers. And Jacobs had the urge to play in the SEC.
"I actually transferred because it was a great opportunity," Jacobs said. "I first talked to coach Rion Rhoades. That was my head coach in JUCO.
"So, I wanted to go to something bigger, playing in the SEC. I always wanted to play in the SEC. So, once I talked to him, he said he had a scholarship offer for me. Man, I kicked down the door. I got in here. I came in as quick as I can. I'm ready to play."
Jacobs drew raves from his Arkansas teammates and coaches through social-media posts and during interviews from the spring right up into training camp.
"Jerry Jacobs is looking really good to me, and Montaric Brown," junior receiver Mike Woods said last week.
Pittman pointed out Jacobs after the first work in pads Tuesday.
"Jerry Jacobs had a wonderful practice today," Pittman said. "He was all over the field."
Jacobs' presence has been a welcome addition to the cornerbacks room that returned both starters in Brown and Jarques McClellion, as well as nickel back starter Greg Brooks Jr.
Fun fact about the Razorbacks' corners and nickels in 2020: Not only did Arkansas not lose any scholarship seniors at the positions, it also has no seniors among its returning players. So Jacobs will be the lone senior among a relatively young group this season.
That doesn't mean there aren't leaders among the non-seniors, however, as Brown is emerging in that regard.
Pittman noted this spring that Brown, one of the gems of the Razorbacks' 2016 class out of Ashdown, was doing a good job leading.
"I feel comfortable," Brown said. "I'm getting adjusted to corner. I'm way more comfortable learning the concepts of receivers and technique, and just practicing my technique every day."
Brown, who began his Arkansas career as a backup safety, said new cornerbacks coach Sam Carter "gets on us every day about technique," adding he works to improve on it each day at practice, then watches film after the workouts.
Brown and McClellion started 21 of a possible 24 games between them at cornerback last year, while LaDarrius Bishop, also from Ashdown and now a redshirt sophomore, picked up the other three starts. Bishop notched one of the team's three defensive touchdowns with a 25-yard fumble return in the late 55-34 blowout victory over Colorado State.
Brown ranked fifth on the team with 39 tackles, while McClellion was eighth with 34, a good indication the Arkansas corners were in on too many stops after gains into the backfield, and that the Hogs did not sport a ton of depth at linebacker and defensive end.
Brooks won the starting nickel job as a true freshman and became one of six Arkansas defenders to start all 12 games. The Harvey, La., product notched 25 tackles, 3 pass breakups. He posted his only interception in the finale against Missouri in Little Rock to set up an Arkansas touchdown.
Having five corners and nickels with starting experience should give the Razorbacks the opportunity to show improvement in the critical coverage areas. Beyond them, young players such as Devin Bush, Malik Chavis, Jordon Curtis, and true freshmen Khari Johnson and Nick Turner need to start coming on and pushing the top-line players.
Brown -- speaking of Jacobs and Johnson, who is working at nickel behind Brooks -- said both players are looking good in camp.
"Both of them look good in technique, fluid in hips and breaks," Brown said. "They can do anything. They're gonna help us during the season build depth."
Jacobs, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Arkansas State's 55-0 loss at Georgia in September, said he's stoked about the Razorbacks opening with a home game against the Bulldogs on Sept. 26. The opener was one of Arkansas' two add-on games along with a road date at Florida.
"Man, I got so happy," he said. "I heard it from one of my teammates, but I had to just go make sure it was right. When I heard we've got them the first game, I got pumped.
"I haven't finished off what I started when I played them last year when I got hurt. So I'm ready to show those guys what I've got."
Jacobs said the Razorbacks' secondary is building in communication and trust.
"I feel like we're coming together, the first group, the second group, all of us," Jacobs said. "We're actually on the same page. So being with a secondary like this, not throwing shade at A-State, but communication plays a major role when it comes to being a great secondary. So ... we're all on the same page. We've all got the same drive to go. So they're a great secondary. We're going to shock the world this year."