- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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Bobby Petrino. John L. Smith. Bret Bielema.
Willy Robinson. Paul Haynes. Chris Ash.
Defensive lineman Trey Flowers has seen too many coaches come and go in his four years at Arkansas, and that’s only counting his head coaches and defensive coordinators, forget his position coach.
Flowers was an SEC All-Freshman selection under Petrino and Robinson in 2011, built on that with a six-sack campaign under Smith and Haynes in 2012 and did so much under Bielema and Ash in 2013 that he earned a spot on the All-SEC team. The 6-foot-4, 267-pound end absolutely filled up the stat line last season with 44 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, an interception and two pass breakups.
And then Ash left for Ohio State. Bielema stayed, of course, but the hiring of Robb Smith marks Flowers’ fourth defensive coordinator in four seasons. He’ll also work with another new face in Rory Segrest, who takes over the defensive line from the departed Charlie Partridge.
Are you able to keep up?
A lack of continuity has been a major problem for Arkansas since Petrino took himself and the program down with that fateful late-night motorcycle ride prior to the 2012 season. Flowers, who has the talent to be considered among the best defensive ends in the SEC, has been lost in the muck of a 7-17 record the past two years.
“It was frustrating for me going winless in the SEC,” Flowers told ESPN of last season. “What was more frustrating was how close we were. It was only one or two plays in a couple of games -- LSU, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Auburn we played close.”
No one would have blamed Flowers for jumping ship prior to his senior year. A third-round grade in hand, he could have entered the NFL draft and left the constant turnover at Arkansas behind. But a personal visit from Bielema and knowing just how close the program was to turning the corner nagged at him. If he bailed now, he might have to watch from afar as the Razorbacks finally reached higher ground.
Bielema put on what he described as a “full-court press,” flying to Flowers’ hometown of Huntsville, Ala. Bielema talked about Montee Ball and other prospects he helped improve their stock while at Wisconsin, laid out a plan for Flowers moving forward and hoped he’d return.
Soon after the visit Flowers announced he was coming back.
“Obviously he wants to improve his draft status, but he also let it be known that he doesn’t want to be somewhere else and not see what’s going to happen at Arkansas through,” Bielema said. “As a head coach that means the world to me just because I know he’s a leader that’s seeing what we’re asking kids to do and wants to be a part of it.”
Said Flowers: “We’re capable of turning around this season and I just wanted to come help out.”
Flowers said he felt like he could help “instill an attitude and let them understand that, hey, we need to close. Just a little more work, a little more preparation, a little more focus and we can get there.”
Going winless in the SEC hurt. This spring, the team is moving past last year's losses while also using them as a source of motivation. A play here, a play there and the outcome could have been different, Flowers said. With a new defensive coordinator and a new position coach, he’s hoping that change will be for the better.
A new emphasis on playing fast, playing physical and creating turnovers could be just what the doctor ordered as Arkansas created the fewest turnovers in the SEC last season (14) and had the worst turnover ratio, to boot, with a minus-9 margin.
Ball disruption has been a major talking point this spring, Flowers said. And though he and the Razorbacks finished with a respectable 28 sacks (fourth in the SEC), they want more. Flowers put on double-digit pounds this offseason to improve his lower body strength, something he can feel in his first step off the line.
Flowers isn’t setting any personal goals. He said that they “set limitations on myself and I’m just working hard to be the best.” With the likes of Jadeveon Clowney no longer wreaking havoc on the SEC, Flowers feels he could be the best defensive lineman in the league.
“Most definitely,” he said. “I want to be considered the best and set records all around the SEC and all around college football.”
How does he accomplish that? The same little things Arkansas must do to get better as a whole.
“It’s preparation. It’s focus. It’s determination. It’s all those things tied together,” Flowers said. “In the offseason I do my workouts and then I go home and do another workout. Then I watch film and watch more film. It’s all about doing more.
“My dad always told me, ‘If you do what you’ve always done you’re going to get what you’ve always got.’ If I do more than I’ve always done then the results will come two-fold back to me.”
It will be different for Flowers this season. His head coach will be the same for the first time in his career, but the defense will be much different. The coordinator has changed, his position coach has changes and so have the faces of many of his teammates. Former All-SEC teammate and defensive end Chris Smith is gone. When Flowers looks down the line he sees guys who are all younger than him.
Coaching up the youngsters and helping turn around a program might seem like a lot to some people, but not to Flowers.
“It’s not really pressure,” he said, “it’s motivation that I embrace that they’re watching me and looking for me to set the perfect example. I just go out there and every rep I have to play as hard as I can.”
19hSam Khan Jr.
2dSam Khan Jr.