With spring ball just around the corner, the Arkansas football team received some good news on the injury front when Taurean Carter announced he had been cleared to practice.
The fifth-year defensive tackle shared the news Wednesday afternoon with a tweet that said it was “one of the best days of my life.”
That is a significant development for the Razorbacks because Carter was one of the standouts last spring before going down with a knee injury on the third play of the Spring Showcase, which replaced the traditional Red-White Game because of inclement weather.
Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman originally told reporters that it didn’t appear to be a catastrophic injury and remained optimistic throughout the season that he’d eventually be able to return, but that never happened.
No specific details were ever revealed, but Carter had surgery and supported his teammates from the sideline all year.
Prior to getting hurt, he was in position to start alongside Isaiah Nichols in the Razorbacks’ four-man front. Quarterbacks aren’t live in practice and they didn’t tackle to the ground very much at other positions, but Carter was consistently in the backfield throughout the spring, racking up would-be sacks and tackles for loss.
It was such an impressive showing that HawgBeat even named him the “breakout star” of spring ball. He made a big jump from his redshirt freshman to redshirt sophomore year and, as a redshirt junior, looked to be on the brink of bursting onto the national scene much like fellow defensive tackles Armon Watts and Jonathan Marshall in recent years.
Now the Razorbacks are hopeful that breakout campaign was just postponed for a year and will happen in 2023, but it remains to be seen if Carter will be able to pick up where he left off.
That is likely the biggest question facing Arkansas’ defensive tackles this spring. He is a massive piece in what is currently a pretty thin position, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the coaches bring him back slowly.
Taurean Carter could get the veteran treatment seen in recent years with players like Jalen Catalon, Bumper Pool, Treylon Burks and others — guys who were intentionally limited in team activities for precautionary reasons because the staff knew what they could do.
Here is a closer look at the defensive tackles as a whole, continuing our position-by-position preview heading into spring ball, which begins next Thursday…
Other Question Facing Arkansas Football at DT
Do the Razorbacks have enough depth for a 4-man front?
For the first time in what feels like forever, Arkansas will have the same defensive line coach as it had the year before, as Deke Adams is set to return for a season season. However, there was a change at defensive coordinator and that will be felt up front.
Travis Williams is expected to run a 4-2-5 base defense, which is a stark contrast to Barry Odom’s multiple defense that utilized quite a bit of three-man fronts. Part of that was out of necessity, though, as the Razorbacks haven’t exactly been flush with depth along the defensive line.
Now the question is whether or not they’ve built up enough depth to consistently run a four-man front like Williams seemingly wants to do. Getting Taurean Carter back from injury is certainly a boost, but Isaiah Nichols transferred to Purdue and Terry Hampton exhausted his eligibility last season.
That duo accounted for more than two-thirds of Arkansas’ snaps among interior defensive linemen in 2022, with the only returner with significant reps being Cameron Ball, who’ll be a redshirt sophomore this year. He flashed his talent throughout the year and actually ended up grading out higher than Nichols and Hampton, according to Pro Football Focus.
Assuming Carter quickly returns to form and Ball continues his upward trajectory, the Razorbacks could have a pretty formidable starting unit in the SEC. However, perhaps more than any other position, there needs to be a steady rotation at defensive tackle to keep the big guys fresh.
With a more full-time shift to a four-man front, it’s very likely that Eric Gregory and Nico Davillier slide inside to defensive tackle after spending some time on the edge in their careers up to this point. Gregory is a fifth-year senior who has split time between the two spots throughout his time in Fayetteville, while Davillier was a four-star freshman last year whom Pittman said was recruited to play defensive end, but shifted inside out of necessity midway through the season.
The only other scholarship defensive tackle who’ll be able to go through spring ball is Marcus Miller, a fifth-year player with only 122 career defensive snaps on his resume. He’ll have to be paired with a walk-on when the Razorbacks go three deep this spring because incoming freshman Ian Geffrard did not enroll early.
It would make a lot of sense if this is a position Pittman targets with at least one of his seven remaining scholarships for 2023. After all, he did add a pair of defensive tackles after the spring last year, landing Hampton as a transfer from Arkansas State and bringing in Taylor Lewis from the JUCO ranks.
2023 Projected Depth Chart
1. Taurean Carter — redshirt senior
2. Cameron Ball — redshirt sophomore
3. Eric Gregory — redshirt senior
4. Nico Davillier — sophomore
5. Marcus Miller — redshirt senior
6. Ian Geffrard — freshman
2023 Arkansas Football Spring Preview Series
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