4. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE ARKANSAS STATE DEFENSE
– The defense that finished fourth in the Sun Belt and allowed 26 points per game gets back seven starters and gets back eight of the top ten tacklers. There are holes, though, at defensive end/hybrid edge rusher – the Bandit position on this D – with 18.5 of the 35 sacks from last season needing to be replaced.
Fortunately, William Bradley-King is a good-sized end who’s ready for a bigger role after coming up with six sacks, and JUCO transfer Kailon Davis will get every shot at playing a role right away. The defensive tackle tandem of Forrest Merrill and Kevin Thurmon are big and experienced – the 338-pound Merrill is one of the Sun Belt’s best interior defenders.
– The linebacking corps gets back two key parts with Tajhea Chambers the big body in the middle after coming up with 79 tackles, and Derrick Bean coming off a good freshman season with 32 stops. There’s good depth for what should be a decent rotation, but again, the Bandit position is a bit of a question mark and has to be figured out in fall camp.
– The secondary that did a decent job of holding up with the Sun Belt’s second-best pass defense gets just about everyone back. Jerry Jacobs is an all-star corner with good ball skills and toughness, and the safety tandem of Darreon Jackson and BJ Edmonds are going to be the big-hitting stars. Jackson led the team with 90 stops, and there’s more JUCO talent – like Jackson was coming into last season – on the way for all four spots.