No shortage of young talent on Arkansas' defense

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Everywhere you looked last season on Arkansas' defense, there were freshmen.

Five true freshmen started at least one game on defense, and seven played on defense. The Razorbacks opened the season with three freshman starters at linebacker, including redshirt freshman Jerry Franklin.

Talk about learning on the job.

But that experience should be invaluable for the Hogs next season. They return their top 10 tacklers from a year ago and enough young talent that has played to give defensive coordinator Willy Robinson a much better feel for 2009.

And let's face it, the Razorbacks don't have anywhere to go but up after finishing last in the SEC a year ago in total defense and scoring defense.

Other than the young guys who did play a lot last season, there are two more who could be big factors next season.

Jelani Smith started the first two games at weakside linebacker before suffering a season-ending hand injury. He received a medical redshirt and will be a freshman again in 2009.

There's also Tenarius Wright, who was on his way to possibly earning a starting spot at middle linebacker during the preseason. But a high ankle sprain sidelined him, and the Razorbacks elected to redshirt him.

Wright was already 230 pounds as a freshman last season, and Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino loved the way he approached the game with his physical nature. That toughness and nasty edge was something the Hogs lacked last season on defense.

Wright will help them improve in that area, and he's one of those linebacker types that could also slide out to rush end and pressure the quarterback.

The Hogs are also keeping their fingers crossed on Elton Ford, who played in eight games at safety last season as a true freshman and showed all sorts of promise before injuring his neck. He's out of his neck brace and has been cleared for light duty during the spring.