One of, if not the most prominent position in question for Arkansas lies on the defensive front. The Razorbacks’ need for a playmaker to step up at the position has been well documented.
Enter defensive end Dorian Gerald.
Gerald has seamlessly vanished from the minds of many.
Despite that, he will be entering his seventh season of college football in 2022.
Standing at 6-foot-3 and 256 pounds, the South Carolina native actually planned to move on from Fayetteville. With no echo of pads in back-to-back seasons, it felt hopeless. It wasn’t so easy.
As with many whom head coach Sam Pittman gets ahold of, Gerald listened. Gerald decided his ride as a Hog was not over.
Medically, he was cleared for competition during late spring. Additionally, the NCAA clearing his desired waiver for a seventh year meant everything was a go. With a scholarship to spare, he was awarded with a roster spot.
“We had an available scholarship.” said Pittman. “I called him and asked if he’d like to come back because I believe he can help the football team when healthy.”
That belief has been hauled all the way to the present. As to be expected with a seventh-year player, his journey has been a long one.
Start in JUCO
Going back in time a little, Gerald was a menace in junior college. Making a name as a super JUCO transfer, he landed at Arkansas in 2018. As a rare JUCO four-star, there was plenty of buzz.
Nothing managed to impede him except himself and his physical attributes. Noted by many, Gerald arrived on campus late and overweight in 2018. Despite that, he still contributed tor former head coach Chad Morris’ team.
Playing in eight games, he tallied 21 tackles and 2.5 for loss. That’s when the tables turned for the worse. His next three years were hampered by injury.
Will the Injuries Ever End?
A rare neck injury forced Gerald to miss 2019. All of his work that offseason was stalled. Gerald went into rehab and found motivation from his teammate and friend, Rakeem Boyd. Their relationship may have done more for Arkansas than one might think.
Gerald spent the 2020 offseason getting back into the swing of things. The COVID-19 pandemic actually afforded Gerald with extra time to get back mentally and physically.
In the season opener against Georgia, the dreaded injury bug returned. This time, it bit Gerald with a leg injury. While not as serious, he still missed the next four games.
Gerald played in the final five games of 2020, but was far from 100%. He registered five tackles and 1.5 sacks in six total games.
As 2021 rolled around, Gerald elected to use his extra year of eligibility afforded by the pandemic. Making it three years in a row, the opener was anything but kind.
Gerald was little more than banged following Arkansas’ Week 1 win over Rice. In practice in preparation for Texas, however, Gerald broke his leg. Nonetheless, he remained on the roster — still in possession of the same talent he stepped on campus with.
Performance when Healthy
When Gerald is 100%, there is no shortage of ability on display. Coming out of JUCO, he was a hard-hitting, heavy-set defensive end. Arkansas’ scheme at the time was a classic 4-3 — not fully suited for his build.
After shedding some pounds, Gerald molded into a prototype edge for the scheme. He was still carrying between 270 and 280 pounds, but he did it well with mobility.
Holding solid quickness, it doesn’t really matter where he plays. Normally on the edge, he can cook slower linemen off the outside. Playing inside on a four-man front, Gerald can weasel through a gap.
Lining up inside has been quite rare. What it boils down to is his expertise as a pass rusher. No matter how big he has been at Arkansas, Gerald has always been able to fly around the field — at least by a defensive lineman’s standards.
When unable to out-speed his opponent off the ball, he can get technical.
To list a couple of his moves, there is a swim move and a stiff arm/bend combo. His swim move is practically no different from a classic swim. Primarily a pass rusher, Gerald rarely needs to swim inside.
As with any solid SEC defensive end, he can bend quite well. Off either edge, Gerald separates with an arm extension, then slips under the offensive lineman. The more momentum he carries – which is normally a lot downhill – the faster the process.
If either move is successful, his next trait is proven. While an underrated aspect, he tracks the ball very fast. Once he’s free of a lineman’s grasp, he makes a beeline into the backfield.
A testament can also be made to his upper body strength. Being able to hold off linemen with one arm is in high demand.
An outside breakdown can only cover so much. Pittman and Co. certainly knew his talent and beyond that spectrum. The coaching staff and Gerald’s teammates knew one more year could not hurt.
Confidence from the Team and Coaches
During SEC Media Days, the defensive line in question was mentioned often. Pittman expressed confidence in the unit.
“I love the numbers; we’ve got 20 (defensive linemen), including walk-ons,” he beamed. “We need some elite pass rushers.”
Gerald was the only player posed as a genuine pass rusher. While coach Pittman didn’t dig deep into his storied career, he brought comic relief, joking that Gerald had been in Fayetteville since the Houston Nutt era.
When Pittman arrived at Arkansas, he had a serious transfer policy. Those who entered the portal weren’t to be allowed back in Fayetteville. Of course, guys like Malik Hornsby and Devin Bush (at the time) were two exceptions to that.
Gerald also became such an example. Despite doing what might get on his coach’s bad side, it never added a blemish. Bringing back Gerald brought back a “capable pass rusher.” Not only that, but the locker room got a boost.
When summer workouts started up, Gerald got the attention of everyone. It was noted by Pittman that he was working as hard as any individual.
“More important than anything, the kids were really excited to see him come back,” Pittman said.
Gerald’s personality has been shown on Arkansas’ social media accounts. As a player who understands how to grind and work hard is one thing. Being fun to be around is another.
Everyone understands Gerald’s comeback story. That team bonding helps every aspect. What goes on behind the curtain gave coach Pittman faith.
“I believe we will be much better on the [defensive line] than we were a year ago,” the head coach said.
Even without up-and-comer Taurean Carter, it stands in validation.
Where Could He Fit?
Getting down to the nitty gritty of the depth chart, Gerald has a role. As mentioned, the injury to the tackle Carter flips the script a bit. Transfer Terry Hampton certainly will help plug a hole, but who else might?
Eric Gregory is the first name to come to mind. Known as an end in the 3-2-6 scheme, he’s big enough to play inside. Shifting an edge guy permanently inside opens a spot for Gerald. Experience pays dividends in his situation as well.
Through a week of fall camp, the 3-2-6 alignment has been vacant. The traditional 4-2-5 has been utilized more often. Joining the playbook has been the 3-3-5, with an edge linebacker.
For term purposes, it’s normally seen as odd or even depending on which linebacker drops. Gerald comes into his skillset in a four-man front. His abilities have already been discussed in the set however.
If Gerald were on the field in a three-man front, odds are the opponent is passing. Aligning linebackers Drew Sanders or Bumper Pool off of Gerald seems sustainable. Putting two players to one side, both capable of getting to the quarterback, might require help. In the case that 3-3-5 is just a stack formation, Gerald might not enter the game, barring injury or fatigue of course.
No matter the formation, coordinator Barry Odom will have a spot for him. Otherwise, Pittman wouldn’t have brought him back.
If 2022 is the year Gerald stays healthy, he will play plenty of downs. Once that box is checked, offensive tackles better be ready to protect their quarterback.
Featured image courtesy of Arkansas athletics