2021 PREVIEW: Less could be more for Hog linebackers Morgan, Poole

Grant Morgan / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

A quick glance at the Arkansas Razorbacks’ linebacker roster might leave an onlooker unimpressed.

Grant Morgan, a sixth-year senior, stands 5-11 and tips the scale at 230. Senior Bumper Pool is a bit more rangy at 6-2, 230. Neither are exactly imposing figures when compared to some of their contemporaries who man the middle around the SEC.

However, measurables printed on paper don’t tell the value of the duo who not only ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in tackles for the Razorbacks but also for the entire Southeastern Conference last year. Those numbers were good enough to tie Morgan for first in the nation in tackles with Akron’s Bubba Arslanian with Pool ranking ninth nationally.

Morgan, who will represent the Razorbacks next Thursday along with offensive tackle Myron Cunningham at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala, averaged 12.3 tackles in his nine games last season to lead the SEC in stops with a total of 111. Pool was second with an average of 11.2 tackles for a total of 101 tackles, also in nine games.

That kind of productivity for one team is uncommon, but when you watch how the Razorbacks duo work from sideline to sideline, it’s easy to understand.

Their grit, desire, and tenacity led to impressive productivity in the first season under defensive coordinator Barry Odom, whose defense is devised to spotlight its linebackers as the down lineman shield blockers to allow the linebackers to roam free. The defense is set to funnel the action to the middle of the field in an effort to reduce long plays.

Pool, entering his third year as a starter, was expected to be a ring leader for the defense last fall, and he lived up to expectations with an 11-tackle performance in the opener, a 37-10 loss to Georgia. He gained national notoriety the next week winning the Bronco Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week award and co-SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors with teammate Joe Foucha for his 20-tackle performance against Mississippi State.

Morgan’s emergence as a tackling machine, however, was somewhat of a surprise. Morgan started his career with the Razorbacks as a walk-on. He played a good bit during the Chad Morris regime and earned a scholarship, but his walk-on status never allowed the Greenwood native to become a full-time starter.

Bumper Pool / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

However, with Odom in place as defensive coordinator, all preconceived notions were out the window. Morgan’s consistency, effort, and leadership merited him a starting role, and he capitalized with an All-SEC and second-team All-American season.

While Pool is more of a silent assassin, Morgan is a vocal leader. In fact, he’s probably the best talker on the team, but it’s not bluster. Morgan is a hype man who backs up his words with his hard hits and a fierce devotion to the program and his teammates.

During the spring, Arkansas experimented more with a four-down lineman scheme than what they operated with last year. It remains to be seen if that adjustment will stick in the fall, and how it might impact Morgan and Pool’s tackle statistics.

Truthfully it would be good news for the Razorbacks if the two’s tackle numbers weren’t so high this season.

The massive number of tackles Pool and Morgan compiled — while impressive — means opponents had extended drives against the Razorbacks. It also speaks to the lack of depth the Hogs had at the position.

Playing better defense would not only get the pair off the field more quickly, but also take a toll on their tackle stats. Both would be net positives for a defense that suffered during the back half of the schedule because of depth issues, injuries, and of course covid-19 contact tracing.

Guiding the Razorbacks’ linebacker room this season is Michael Scherer, who was promoted from an analyst position early this year. Scherer played linebacker for Odom at Missouri. His work and presence as an analyst as well as an on-the-field coach last year when Razorback head coach Sam Pittman was sidelined by covid-19 made his promotion a natural move for Odom.

Also returning for his second senior season — allowed by the NCAA because of the coronavirus — is Hayden Henry (6-2, 225), who played through a shoulder injury last year. He had a positive spring and brings quickness and experience to the field. His tenacity will be an asset this season.

Andrew Parker (6-2, 245) played a limited role a year ago. The junior might be ready to make an impact this fall.

True freshman Chris “Pooh” Paul Jr. (6-,1 240), and redshirt freshman Jackson Woodard (6-2, 235) have the size and speed the Hogs look for in linebackers. Either or both could be a factor this season.

If healthy, Levi Draper (6-1, 250), a transfer from Oklahoma, could earn playing time this season as could senior Deon Edwards (6-1, 220).

* This is the fourth in a position-by-position series previewing the 2021 Arkansas football team.