By Nate Allen
Special to the News-Times
FAYETTEVILLE - An Arkansas starting true freshman cornerback for the last 11 games last season because Ryan Pulley was lost for 2017 with torn pectoral muscles in the season opener, sophomore Kamren Curl runs first-team safety.
Following Tuesday’s practice, senior Santos Ramirez, last year’s strong safety, said he’s moved to the free safety position that 2017 grad Josh Liddell held for much of the last four years and that Curl of Muskogee, Okla. brings his 6-2, 188 size to strong safety. Curl brings a football intellect, too, Ramirez said.
“So far Kam has really learned that position very fast,” Ramirez said. “He’s a very coachable kid. I feel like Kam is a natural safety. He has nice size and nice strength to him and he is adjusting to it very well out there. I very amazed with what Kam is doing with it so far.”
Ramirez cautioned that any defensive back switching positions literally has to be focused on his responsibilities.
“For Kam the main thing right now is to make sure his eyes are in the right place,” Ramirez said. “When Kam can get his eyes in the right place, Kam can be a shutdown safety. He’s not afraid to put his nose in that box and make plays. Like I told him, he gets his eyes a little better … then he’s going to be good to go there.”
Ramirez has played both free and strong safeties in schemes under former Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema and former Arkansas defensive coordinators Robb Smith and Paul Rhoads, but under new Coach Chad Morris and new defensive coordinator John Chavis has been strictly free safety this spring.
Smith coordinated a 4-3 defense, and Rhoads a 3-4. Chavis operates a 4-3 with more blitzing than his immediate predecessors, Ramirez said.
“We’re going to apply way more pressure with Coach Chavis out there,” Ramirez said. “He has a very aggressive mindset and I love the mentality he brings to our defense. He lets us go out there and compete and play at the highest level possible. You make a mistake and he just goes out there and lets you experience from those mistakes and learn from them and that’s the main thing you can get as a player. “
Sophomore Chevin Calloway has moved into the first-team corner spot that Curl vacated. Senior Nate Dalton has moved to No. 2 corner behind Calloway and intercepted a pass during Tuesday’s live contact portion of the closed to media practice, senior linebacker Dre Greenlaw said.
Greenlaw, also a veteran of Bielema, Robb Smith and Rhoads past, says he’s enjoying having a coordinator also be his linebackers coach. Rhoads coached the secondary the last two years and Smith’s backgrounds also is secondary oriented.
“Just having a defensive coordinator as a linebackers coach, it really helps,” Greenlaw said. “It helps you understand the defense more and any kind of questions we have concerning defense this season we can just go talk to him and he'll have a lot of answers for it. This is my third defensive coordinator, but I think it's an advantage to have him as my actual position coach.”
Although the quarterbacks wear black jerseys denoting they should not be hit, Morris said there will be situations in Saturday’s upcoming scrimmage where they can be “thudded,” though not tackled to the ground.
Bring on the contact, exclaims Cole Kelley, the 6-7, 263 third-year sophomore running first-team as the only quarterback with starting game experience when graduated senior Austin Allen missed games injured.
“I love getting hit, honestly,” Kelley said, noting his first significant playing time last season came when Bielema installed the “Steamboat” package using Kelley’s size as a goal-line and short-yardage runner. “That’s how I started playing on this football team was just running the ball in between the tackles and stuff. I’ve always loved running the ball and getting hit. I feel like I get soft in practice when we can’t get hit. I LOVED the Steamboat. I loved that package so much.”
Has this staff floated a “Steamboat” plan by him?
“No,” Kelley said. “I’m just trying to focus on being No. 1 now, trying to battle and win the job.”
Fourth-year junior Ty Storey of Charleston again competes with Kelley and has had some first-team reps and closed last Saturday’s live period throwing a touchdown pass to January enrolled freshman receiver Michael Woods.
“It was a blast, just being able to get out there, back with the team,” Storey said of Saturday’s TD thrown in the second practice of spring and the first in pads. “It's been a while since we could really roll through that. Obviously Mike Woods made a great catch and scored. So it was good.”
Both Kelley and Storey always maintained they’ve stayed close friends even as they battled to be Austin Allen’s backup last year and battle for the starting job now.
“I've always liked Cole. We're pretty big good buds,” Storey said. “Hang out here a lot, quite a bit obviously and we also hang out off the field. It's been a really cool relationship and we're going to continue to keep building it.”