FAYETTEVILLE — During spring practice last April, well traveled Jamario Bell became the hottest new item on Arkansas’ defense.
After one year redshirting and another year apprenticing on the scout team bandied from defensive end to tight end, Bell of Junction City moved to outside linebacker in the Razorbacks’ new 3-4 scheme during spring last week.
He netted more praise that one week than his previous two autumns combined.
“He’s been like a rebirth,” Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said during his April 29 spring drills summation. “He’s been unbelievable. I know when I first brought it up to him, he kind of gave me those big eyes, but he jumped into it 110 percent. He has made plays really ever since the day he got there. He had a big interception on Tuesday. He’s a crowd favorite. The kids love harassing him because he loves to be harassed and give harassment as well. He’s having fun. The think I said after that second day, I just looked at him and said, ‘Jamario, I love your smile, man. I haven’t seen that in two years.’ He’s a good athlete and almost came up with a big one today.”
Bell was so hot last April that Bielema was asked Monday if he the linebacker had stayed as intense during working out in the summer before spring drills commence Thursday.
Bielema spoke to media Monday before coaches, alums and Northwest Arkansas Razorback Club members and guests teed off in a golf event at the Shadow Valley Country Club in Rogers.
“Mario’s had a really good summer, I think” Bielema said. “Especially the way he capped off the final probably six practices of the spring, really engaging. He worked really hard. I’ve been impressed with his awareness around the program and being engaged. I’m excited. That position’s gonna have a lot of competition in the fall.”
Linebackers coaches Vernon Hargreaves and Chad Walker were asked about Bell, too.
Hired last spring as a brand new coach coaching Arkansas’ brand new outside linebacker positions called Hog and Razor, Walker certainly was brand new to Bell and vice versa during the final week of spring drills.
Bell, 6-5, 258, is among those contending at Hog the bigger defensive end type of hybrid linebacker while Razor is more the strong safety/outside linebacker hybrid.
“Jamario is progressing well,” Walker said Monday. “I’m not exactly sure what he had done before. We’re just continuing to work. Jamario’s is really approaching every day and kind of getting better and better and better. So we’ll see where it takes him. He’s been a pleasure.”
Hargreaves, who coached the three linebacker positions the last two years in a 4-3 defense, was asked about Bell out of habit because he now coaches the inside Mike and Will linebacker positions and doesn’t coach Bell directly.
“Yeah, he went outside, but I think he’s the type of guy that you are looking for out there,” Hargreaves said. “ He did some good things. So we’ll see what kind of progress he makes from the summertime to now and coming out of spring because we only had him right at the end. The good thing is it’s a little longer camp so we have time to get him going.”
Because the NCAA has outlawed two-a-days, the length between the first practice day to the first game has been increased.
In Arkansas’ case that’s Thursday’s first practice up to the Aug. 31 Thursday night season-opener in Little Rock against Florida A&M.
Like the regular season, one off day per week is mandated during the five preseason weeks.
Bielema said Sunday always will be Arkansas’ preseason day off.
Presently, the linebacker situation starts junior Dre Greenlaw, his twice broken foot deemed good to go healed, Will linebacker and sophomore Scoota Harris, playing Will last year when Greenlaw broke his foot six games into the season, at Mike.
Senior Karl Roesler, a spare defensive end last season, and junior Randy Ramsey, also a spare defensive end last season, open Thursday’s drills at first-team Hog and Razor.
Senior Dwayne Richardson, the Kevin Richardson of linebackers as like Richardson able to play all five positions in the secondary including starting nickel when the Hogs play five defensive backs, Eugene played all three linebacker positions in the 4-3 and practiced variously last spring at all four linebacking positions.
Walker coaches Eugene now but Hargreaves he’s ready to go inside if need be.
“Right now he looks really comfortable outside,” Hargreaves said. “He’s done a nice job out there so I think he’s going to stay there for now. If we ever have a problem with depth of injuries or whatever he’s always a guy that can come back in because he’s done it.”
Veteran walk-ons Josh Harris of Watson Chapel, “trimmed down,” as requested Hargreaves said, and Grant Morgan of Greenwood impressed last spring, Hargreaves said.
January enrolled mid-term high school graduates Dee Walker and Kyrie Fisher also logged plenty of spring work, especially with Greenlaw withheld to mend his foot.