FAYETTEVILLE -- There were chuckles from the back of the room as Hampton, Ga., star Patrick Jones toted the ball in the middle of the highlight video that Arkansas showed at its football signing day event on Wednesday. They might have come from former Razorback offensive lineman Shawn Andrews, once a beefy tailback in college.
Jones will line up as a defensive tackle for the Hogs. He’s listed at 6-foot-2 by 280 pounds, but probably is closer to 300 pounds. The husky Jones made several nice power runs on the video and rolled to over 2,000 yards in a slimmer life as a junior high tailback.
Just as the lights came back up after the D-line video ended, Arkansas coach Houston Nutt waved at defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, the man who signed Jones, to get his attention for a question.
“Coach Rocker, he knows he’s going to be a linemen doesn’t he?” Nutt said. “But you like his quickness when you see him back there running the ball. He reminds you of when we saw Keith Jackson running the ball in high school and maybe Shawn, too.”
Rocker confirmed that Jones is a lineman all the way. Rocker was smiling as he made note of Jones’ future and he probably was happy about the four defensive linemen the Hogs signed, too.
“If you look at our linemen in this class, we’ve got fast twitch guys,” Nutt said. “Coach Rocker is going to have some fun with these guys. Really, this class is good in the line on both sides of the ball.
“We signed four or five offensive linemen who can really play and we really like the four defensive linemen we signed. In the SEC, it’s all about what you have in the offensive and defensive line.”
I agree with that all the way. The way the Hogs played in the trenches went a long way to bringing home the SEC West title last season. Good seasoned linemen win in the SEC. You must sign good linemen every year and the Hogs did that this winter.
Damario Ambrose was the star on the highlight video. The Mobile, Ala., defensive end displayed quickness off the ball and a mean spirit when he arrived in the backfield. The 6-5, 250-pounder drew the most praise from fans and media after the video finished.
“That’s the one that jumped off the tape,” said secondary coach Louis Campbell. “He’s got the quickness and the speed you love. That’s what Bobby Allen and I were just talking about.”
The other two defensive line prospects — end Adrian Campbell and tackles Brandon Lampkin — also had impressive clips on the highlight video.
The Hogs added 27 in the Class of 2007 on Wednesday. They’ll have to trim that list to 25 before reporting day in August. Nutt said several have work to do on the academic side and at least one “is a good candidate to go to prep school.”
The bad news was that the Hogs lost several in-state players. Nutt said he faced a heavy amount of negativity in home visits after offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn left the program in early January.
“We came into homes and we could tell other schools had been there because there were laminated newspaper articles on the kitchen table,” he said. “The good news is that at that point we had 18 commitments. We only lost one — Chavis Williams — to Alabama. So the theme on this class is the 17 that were strong.”
The Hogs signed two quarterbacks, Texans Nathan Dick and Joe Chaisson. They also signed three swift tailbacks in Michael Harris, Juwan Franklin and Brandon Barnett.
Nutt said the fact that both Darren McFadden and Felix Jones are entering their junior years — and likely to be early entries to the NFL — helped attract some tailback candidates that seemed to look elsewhere last year.
“Let’s don’t kid ourselves when we talk about Darren and Felix,” Nutt said. “Tailbacks can look here now and see where their time is coming and that those two might not be here after next year. That helped us.”
If there was a disappointment in numbers, it was at cornerback. The Hogs signed Greg Gatson Jr. and Isaac Madison there, but Nutt said he would have liked more help at that position. One of the tailbacks might switch to corner, but Nutt said all three will start out on offense.
Nutt said the three safeties — Jerry Franklin, Walner Leandre and Bret Harris — should come prepared to play next season.
“We’ve told them to get ready because we need them now,” Nutt said. “They know we have a need there.”
Nutt liked his class and didn’t care where others might rate it. He’s seen them rate the Hogs at the bottom of the SEC more times than not and pointed to three SEC West trophies sitting near him at the media reception.
“Ratings and stars, they don’t mean a lot,” Nutt said. “People like to talk about them, but we have been rated seventh and eighth in the SEC a lot, but we have those trophies. LSU didn’t win seven games in the SEC West last year, we did. They didn’t go to Atlanta, we did.”
We won’t know how this class really rates for two more years. That’s when we know if the Hogs evaluated better than the recuiting services or not.
But one thing most everyone agrees on already. Patrick Jones is a defensive tackle, not a tailback.
CLAY HENRY IS THE PUBLISHER OF HAWGS ILLUSTRATED, A STEPHENS MEDIA GROUP PUBLICATION. HIS COLUMN APPEARS EACH FRIDAY. E-MAIL: CLAY@NWAONLINE.NET