The Razorback rosters which Houston Nutt coached from 1998-2007 produced 22 NFL draftees on the defensive ball. In the decade since then, Bobby Petrino, John L. Smith and Bret Bielema have produced a total of six defensive NFL draft picks.
It is true that Houston Nutt, on the whole, recruited more highly talented defensive players. Ahmad Carroll, for instance, was rated at the top of his class of cornerbacks coming out of high school. But the disparity between decades doesn’t just boil down to talent. It involves attitude, too, a group of former Nutt players recently told sports radio host Bo Mattingly.
Two of them—Ken Hamlin and Quinton Caver–were drafted in the second round. Below are edited excerpts from the quartet’s discussion of what has changed in the last decade, and especially with last year’s especially grievous defensive debacle.
Ken Hamlin: One thing that I’ve said, and we talk about it a lot amongst ourselves, but the energy, just the type of tenacity that I think we had when we played, when we were there, I haven’t seen it. I don’t know if I’ve seen it since we’ve left… I can’t say it’s a knock on the players or not, but it just it doesn’t seem like we get the people in that really want to …
The inconsistency I saw last year, it was so bad in key games. You think about A&M being a key game, going into the Alabama game the following week, and you give up almost 40 points. [45 points, actually] I think we led the SEC in big plays over 20 yards and, I think, we broke a record for Arkansas within like four games, five games of the season. It’s just too many big plays and not any guys that are going to step up be the one to say, “You know what—no more.”
Quinton Caver: Ken Hamlin, Eddie, and also Brandon can attest to this, as Coach [Bobby] Allen used to tell us: Once we cross that white line, you got to turn the switch on, it’s all attitude. You have to want to do it when it comes down to it. You have to be the one like, “I’m going to make this play,” or “I’m going to make this stop.” Everybody had that mentality on the defense, not just one person.
We all wanted to be around the ball, we all wanted to make a big play. That’s what you have to have, and you have to have someone that’s going to step in and step up and say, “Follow me, let’s get this done, regardless. We have to get this dealt with, we have to get this done.” It’s all about your mentality.
I know the guys have it here, they’re just making sure that they translate that not only on the playing field, but also in the classroom as well, when you’re studying the film. You got to hold each one accountable.
Mattingly: Brandon Holmes, is it different now with players than it was when you guys were around? How do you think locker rooms might be different now?
Brandon Holmes: I’m pretty sure they got a lot of different distractions, but at the end of the day, it’s about the core nucleus, man. It’s about how you were brought up, and what you wanted to accomplish. That was one of the reasons why I came to Arkansas. Going from seeing other schools, I was like, “This is a true family atmosphere and there’s nothing like anything else I’ve seen.” I would definitely say it’s just the will to want to be able to make something happen.
Ken Hamlin: Regardless of how many bells and whistles you have—I know we have all the updated facilities and everything—[but] you still got go back to the grind that got you here. I think a lot of them lose that grind that really got them to this point. It goes to getting a little bit comfortable because we start getting spoiled. As a defensive player, you got to be ready to get down and dirty. It’s not about coming out of the game clean. It’s about having some bruises, and being beat up, and trying to beat somebody else up.
I think we have to get back to that mentality of, you know what? We’re going to go and enforce our will. We had a “Code Red” when we played. That needs to be reinforced because it just doesn’t seem that we have a defense that wants to force their will on someone else. We want to react, and we don’t want to be ones that make that offense react.
We used to have defenses where we knew the quarterbacks weren’t going to hold the ball for longer than two seconds. We got to get back to that.
Eddie Jackson: When we was in it, our defense was the offense. The team thrived, they got pumped up on how well we would do. When we all came in, we came into a situation where we had the Kenoy Kennedys, the David Barretts in the secondary and those guys, we followed their lead. When we all came in as the secondary—me, Ken Hamlin, Tony Bua, Lawrence Richardson, Marvin Jackson, Batman[Ahmad Carroll]—all these guys we had these guys that, basically, showed us the ropes.
I just feel like, right now, there’s a disconnect with, like what Ken is saying, it’s basically having that dog mentality: “When we go out there you know what? Don’t forget the offense but we can create our own plays, we can do our own thing and not just rely on the offense.” That’s what we used to think.
We used to have a situation where we would compete over batted balls, interceptions, we would try to create plays within a game on our own, and not rely on the offense. That’s, ultimately, why we had basically the top secondary in the SEC when we were playing.
The above originally interviews were originally given on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly.
Arkansas is the SEC’s eighth-most likely team to win the 2017 national championship—behind Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Auburn, Tennessee and Texas A&M—according to major sportsbooks.