FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas linebacker Jerry Franklin started his career at middle linebacker and got a baptism of fire starting at the key spot through most of his freshman season.
Toward the end of the 2008 season, the 6-1, 241-pound junior-to-be from Marion began to play more at weak-side linebacker, and started there throughout 2009, while senior Wendel Davis played the middle.
Some figured Franklin, who led the Hogs in tackles in 2008 (87) and 2009 (94) would drift back to the middle for his junior season with Davis' departure. And that could happen eventually, but that would not be in the Hogs best interest.
In an attempt to make the best use of their man power, Franklin will line up at his weak-side spot, and senior Jermaine Love (5-11, 230) will be given a shot to be the Razorbacks man in the middle.
Love played sparingly for the Hogs last year, making appearances in just three games and making two tackles, but his work ethic in off-season drills has caught the attention of Arkansas' coaching staff. The Garland, Texas native, who bench presses 410 pounds and runs a 4.5 40-yard dash, is going to get his chance to shine in 2010.
"Jermaine Love is a guy whom I think that we need to step up and be a player now," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "It’s time for that. He’s off the charts in all the testing — strength, speed and quickness. He’s not the tallest guy we have at linebacker, but he is one of the strongest and fastest we have on the team."
Petrino said he's got the instincts and physicality the coaching staff likes in a linebacker.
"He’s a really willing hitter," Petrino said. "He likes contact and we are going to give him a really good look in spring to see how he does. His measurables are unbelievable."
Jerico Nelson (5-10, 205) has proven to be a dependable play-maker and opens at the strong-side linebacker spot over the tight end. He finished third in tackle last season with 74 stops behind Franklin and Davis (79 tackles). But he can't take his starting spot for granted. Bret Harris (6-0, 220) will back him, and Petrino envisions him making a move for more playing time this spring.
"Bret Harris has had as good an off-season as anyone," Petrino said. "He’s gained weight and strength and his speed continues to go down.
"He was productive in the games last year. He needs to get from being a part-time player, a role player I guess you would say, to being a full-time player and he would really help us. Some of that is just being more physical. He made the move last year from safety down to linebacker and sometimes there is an adjustment period. But he needs to step up and help us."
Behind Love at middle linebacker will be two sophomores in Terrell Williams (6-3, 237) and Austin Moss (6-3, 227), who have the size and speed to garner considerable playing time, but they have to put the work in on and off the field that it takes to become impact players in just their second year of eligibility.
"They need to make that jump from their freshman years to their sophomore year and if they can do that like [receivers] Jarius Wright and Greg Childs did, that would help us a lot," Petrino said. They are going to get a bunch of reps in spring so we can find out."
Senior Freddy Burton (6-2, 238) is listed as Franklin's back-up at weak-side linebaker. He started seven games last year and is versatile enough to play the middle as well.