The jump that Arkansas’ defensive line made from the 2021 to 2022 season was something that not many expected early on. Departures of John Ridgeway to the NFL Draft and Tre Williams meant many players would need to rise to the occasion. Throw in the experience of Markell Utsey becoming vacant and it became a huge question mark. That mystery even extended into the coaching tree.
Coaching turnover led to the hiring of Deke Adams as the defensive line coach which turned some heads. It was for good reason. Diving into the portal before the season as done the year prior, it was clear that building depth was a focal point. That SEC-made philosophy paid off. In his first year as the DL coach, his defensive line helped break the school record for sacks in a season with 42. On top of that, any casual fan could tell there was a shift. Between the 2022 defensive line and ones of Arkansas’ past, something was just clicking. The season did wind up ending on a sour note. Losing three linemen after the 2022 season, one came as a gut punch.
The leader in sacks along the front – Jordan Domineck – decided to hit the portal. With 7.5 sacks, coach Pittman and co. couldn’t reel him back from joining coach Prime at Colorado. Factor in the graduation of Terry Hampton inside and Arkansas lost nearly ten total sacks and 60 tackles of production (not to mention Drew Sander’s production). Moving forward to this coming season and the priority still stood. Instead of relying on the youth and shaky depth at hand, the coaching staff took to the transfer portal and had even greater success than before.
With plenty of confidence in the senior edge rushers returning, the interior defensive line is where they attacked the hardest.
Adding great multiplicity and depth, John Morgan was the first to jump aboard as a true pass rusher out of Pitt. Staying outside, Trajan Jeffcoat was brought in as a player with raw strength and the ability to play anywhere on the front line. Diving inside, the coaching staff brought in two up and coming hog mollies. Anthony ‘Tank’ Booker comes in with the most attention between the two defensive tackle transfers. At 320 pounds, his name sheds a lot of light before you even see him out on the field. The other transfer, Keivie Rose, has more questions than answers but cannot be overlooked as a certain contributor. Considering Booker has the bigger hype train, let’s check him out first.
Anthony Booker Background
Coming out of the Cincinnati area, Booker was already a hefty problem at the high school level. His first year of varsity had him rack up 40 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He kept just getting bigger and better. At 6-4 and 280 pounds by his senior season, the attention started rolling in. Anthony began earning many D1 offers including the likes of Kentucky and Pitt. He wound up choosing to be a Terrapin and waltzed onto campus as a consensus three-star recruit.
His first year on campus brought action in only three games which led to a redshirt in 2019. With Maryland only participating in five games during 2020, Booker had limited playing time. Showing hints of potential, he had four tackles and 1.5 TFLs against Northwestern alone. The flashes allowed Booker to play in ten of 13 games in 2021, but failed to take a huge step. Then came his redshirt junior season in 2022.
With lots of hype gained over the summer and increased productivity, coach Locksley put Booker into a starting role toward the end of the season. Getting that start against Wisconsin, he put up a career best six total tackles. Those numbers contributed to 27 tackles on the season alongside two sacks and two forced fumbles.
With a year that could be considered a coming out party, Booker decided to test the portal waters. As expected with his size and play, the SEC came calling. Recruiting services were also high on Anthony with many considering him a four-star caliber portal addition. After going through the recruiting process Arkansas won the sweepstakes for a much needed piece of the puzzle. While listed as a redshirt senior, Booker will have his COVID year still at his disposal.
Expert Level Bull Rush
Whether you see Booker standing in front of you or listed on the roster, it’s pretty clear what his priority is on the field. Going all the way back to his high school days, Booker has possessed a menacing bull rush. He has proven there is almost zero sense in lining up a smaller lineman opposite him. On numerous occasions Booker has subdued undersized players. The saying in football is that the “low man wins” and that’s something he has taken to heart. As a huge player, he has a great ability to understand pad level. Once Anthony has gotten underneath an offensive lineman’s pads, it’s likely game over. His size and leg power take over the majority of players unfortunate enough to be placed in that scenario.
While there weren’t many cases of Booker lining up against bigger linemen, he still has proven success. With the SEC ahead of him, it will be important to key in on. Going back to him understanding pad level in the trenches, it remains in play against a bigger target. Factoring in a quick twitch off the line, Booker’s hands are often the first to make contact. Once his strength takes hold, he has the ability to stand up the opposition which gives him full control of the battle. To truly enforce the bull rush, there really is no disengaging.
When Booker isn’t picking up stat sheet digits, he’s causing inconveniences for the offense. Even on downs where he gets locked up with an offensive lineman, Booker still owns superb drive. On most occasions, Booker drives a lineman into the backfield disrupting a quarterback’s reads or a handoff. He’s also been known to knock down passes at the line. When not locked up with an opposing lineman anything is fair game. No running back is ever going to want to pick up a tank.
The biggest feature that allows Booker to be so successful at what he does isn’t just his size. At 6-5, he also owns an adequate wingspan which is crucial as a slower defensive linemen. Possessing the quick hands to attack a larger offensive lineman wouldn’t be complete without the ability to extend. Once the stun has been produced, his strength and arm length create distance. That alone gives Booker time to assess action in a play.
While plowing into the backfield is satisfying, using his physical tools to slow down and analyze a play is just as devastating. That’s what makes Booker a better run stopper than a pass rusher. His PFF grade in the run game reflects the feat as it stood at 78.3 last season opposed to 66.1 in the pass game. Booker has also been known to extend and shift to get to the edge on certain plays. With the distance that he can create, a simple shed can give him an angle to get around an offensive lineman. His speed does make catching an edge more difficult, but he rarely has a ball carrier get away from his grasp once wrangled.
Keivie Rose Background
Known to his family as Del’Keiveon Ke’Unta Rose, Keivie is a native of Henderson, TX. As a program noted for football success during his time there, eyes were always on him. Keivie aided his team, earning a 9-5 record his senior season which included a playoff berth. While his play never blew the doors off, 247 Sports thought he was worthy of three-star status. Plenty of non-Power Five schools came to the table who were joined by others such as Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Some might say he earned a better offer list than his ratings suggested. Passing up the bigger schools, Rose chose to stay close to home and play for Louisiana Tech.
His first year in Ruston was about as tame as could be. While earning his first playing time in the first game of the season, he would end up redshirted. Things changed in a hurry. Going into 2020, Rose wound up starting eight of ten games for the Bulldogs. Keivie totaled 23 tackles during the ten game span which included two five tackle games.
Starting every game by 2021, things just kept going uphill. Not to mention he was filling into his frame on the interior. Finishing off the season with 25 total tackles, he also earned four tackles for loss and a sack. Once again starting all 12 games in 2022, it would be the peak of Rose’s career. Totalling 18 solo tackles and 24 total, he also compiled four TFLs, two sacks, and two forced fumbles.
After earning an all-conference honorable mention the year prior, his name was avenged. With the explosion of solo tackles and dangerous pass rush, Rose earned 1st Team All-Conference USA in 2022. Three seasons of fantastic play in the trenches proved to be satisfactory for Rose as he hit the portal following year four. Shooting from 240 pounds his freshman season to 303 by the end of his tenure, his attraction had boosted even more so. With a handful of quality teams reaching out for the consistent pass rusher, Arkansas became the selection. As a perfect lightning to Booker’s thunder, Rose also has two seasons remaining if he so chooses.
Big Time Interior Pass Rusher
A complete contrast in style – that’s what Keivie Rose is when compared to Anthony Booker. Rose’s stellar pass rush abilities can be dated all the way back on his Hudl account. In high school he primarily relied on a lightning fast swim move that wasn’t quite perfected, but was still successful. Some might say it was a swim move combined with more of a knocking down motion. Either way, combined with his amazing jump, it allowed Rose to shoot numerous gaps before linemen even had a chance. Such feats translated to the next level for the most part. Playing in the gaps rather than over the center, he also flashed his ability to bend in high school. That didn’t quite translate as seamlessly, however. Combined with his speed, a quick shoulder pop bend could stun C-USA lineman, but will need polishing for success in the SEC.
As time passed in Ruston, it allowed his primary pass rush move to only get stronger. A ton of credit can also be given to adding 60 pounds to rule the interior. With a college weight room at his disposal, Rose got stronger arms and heavier hands. Those tools are what allowed Rose to truly expound upon moves he already possessed. It could be argued that his strength alone is what kept him a starter for three seasons. When his swim move went limp he could pile drive the average offensive lineman. If there is something both defensive tackle transfers possess, it’s raw strength.
To go ahead and rip the band-aid off, there is one glaring issue in his game. Mentioned previously about his lacking ability to bend, it leads straight to his feet. Despite having a great jump off the line, his feet lack upper level agility. While mending that department can take place, Rose is serviceable as is.
His raw strength and speed is what caused the majority of issues during his time in Ruston. Pairing his physical attributes with a motor that’s always running hot and you have yourself a player. A Pittman style of player. Every single down, the opposing line will have to know there’s a 300 pound missile with a high football IQ lined up on the inside. If some minor tweaks can be made to his game by coach Deke Adams by September, Rose would be safely in the two-deep.
Think back to what was thought of John Ridgeway when he stepped on campus at Arkansas. Coming from an FCS program, all many saw was an uber athletic lineman that could be a solid pass rusher at best. That ‘solid pass rusher’ turned into an NFL draft pick with only had one year to make the jump! Despite not having a true go-to move, he was a guy that was always in the play simply because he refused to quit. He was pretty darn strong too. That’s exactly what Arkansas is replenishing with the addition of Rose.
With four total defensive linemen added across the board, all four are unique in what they bring to the table. John Morgan brings the speed and closing edge presence. Trajan Jeffcoat supplies multiplicity and dominating presence. Moving inside and you see a tank paired up with cannon and it begs the question – what if Arkansas hits on all four guys? Bringing in eight transfers last season, all eight were major contributors. Jordan Domineck, who was the one who didn’t start just managed 7.5 sacks. Time will tell, but Arkansas could possess the most depth at the defensive line position that they have had in quite some time. With all four transfers in the senior category, nine veteran presences on the line should draw some attention.