FAYETTEVILLE — Early Sunday evening Greg Brooks’ ears likely burned in a good way.
Brooks wasn’t in the post-practice media room Sunday when Arkansas Razorbacks cornerbacks coach Sam Carter and cornerbacks Montaric “Busta” Brown of Ashdown and Hudson Clark were asked about Arkansas’ junior 2-year starting nickel back’s primary role in the secondary.
All-SEC safety Jalen Catalon and Brown get the Arkansas primary secondary attention among media but Brooks deserves more than a nickel’s worth in Carter’s view
“Greg Brooks, by far, is probably one of our leaders in the room,” Carter said after Sunday marked the Razorbacks’ third preseason practice. “He’s unbelievable. First three days, him and (Arkansas All-SEC receiver Treylon) Burks are going at it back and forth. As long as he has the confidence, Greg is probably one of the best DBs in the country.”
Brooks’ love of football runs in the family.
‘A lot of people don’t know Greg Brooks’ dad played in the NFL (three years for the Cincinnati Bengals), Carter said. “He just studies football all day. He loves it. Sometimes he texts me at 3 AM, 2 AM like ‘Coach, you up?’ And I’m like ‘Man, I’m trying to go to sleep,’ and he’s just asking me questions about different formations.”
Brown and Clark said Brooks combination of being a solid run-support tackler and cover man against slot receivers makes him ideally versatile for all that he nickel position entails.
“He’s fast,” Clark said. “He’s twitchy. He can blitz and tackle and cover. He can do it all.”
Jalen Catalon might not be the only Catalon impacting the Razorbacks this season.
Older brother receiver Kendall Catalon, a former letterman at Southern University now an active Arkansas senior after redshirting as a 2020 transfer, made an impressive catch vs. Clark during the early portion of Sunday’s practice that media is allowed to view.
“I went against him today,” Clark said. “ I think he’s a really good route runner and a really good possession receiver.”
The Catalons clash in practice as safeties and receivers obviously do.
“Him and Jalen go at it all the time,” Clark said. “They have that brotherly love, so it’s amazing to see that.”
Brown, the leader of Arkansas’ cornerbacks like Jalen Catalon leads the safeties, lives up to his responsibilities, Carter said starting with his summer conditioning under strength coach Jamil Walker
““You can tell he was in the weight room,” Carter said. “Coach Walker got him bigger, faster. He’s our guy. He’s our No. 1 corner.”
Confidence, Carter, Brown and Clark say, is always a key for a defensive back, inevitably at some point having to shake off getting beat deep and start confidently afresh the next series.
Clark, the 2019 unknown redshirt freshman walk-on become 2020 Jim Thorpe Award Player of the Week spotlighted for three interceptions and three pass breakups against Ole Miss, but no picks and only three breakups thereafter, can relate to a cornerback’s confidence up and downs.
Carter emphasizes relating that to Clark.
“Beginning of the (2020) season, he lost some confidence,” Carter said. “Middle of the season, Ole Miss game (starting because Brown was injured) his confidence shot up. Then guys started throwing at him. So, this offseason, I think he was just working on confidence. You’re going to get beat. If you guys play DB, I promise you’ll get beat too.”
You just can’t mulling over one beating leading to another, Brown said of his biggest offseason goal
“I wanted to work on my mental toughness,” Brown said. “Just having that confidence throughout the season. Last year it kind of went up and down. So I want to be consistent with that. Just keeping the confidence.”
Sophomore Khari Johnson, lettering as a true freshman last year with eight games off the bench and one start, backs up Brown.
Clark is locked in a tight but apparently friendly battle to start vs. fourth-year junior 2-year letterman LaDarrius “Day Day” Bishop.
“That’s my brother,” Clark said. “We’re in the same position, so I’m obviously competing against him and trying to beat him out. But we’re pushing each other. I feel like we’re both getting better because of that.”
As Arkansas second-year coach, defensive coordinator Barry Odom, also coaching the safeties, and Carter coach not only return nearly all they coached last year but among others added Penn State grad transfer Trent Gordon last spring, and scholarship freshmen Jayden Johnson, impressive last spring as a December high school grad and January UA enrollee, and this summer enrolled freshmen Keuan Parker and Chase Lowery.
“Chase and Keuan those guys look pretty good,” Carter said. “We’re cross-training them at corner and Nickel, so we’re excited about about both of those guys.”
Sophomore letterman Myles Slusher has variously practiced at all six secondary positions that Odom employs.