Arkansas enters spring practice looking for ways to break through against the SEC West’s bullies
Arkansas is coming off one of the best two-season stretches in school history. The Razorbacks won 11 games last season and finished in the top 10.
Alas, the Hogs also finished third in their division, and therein is the problem. As good as the Hogs were last season, they lost to division foes Alabama and LSU. In 2010, they lost twice in the regular season, but both setbacks came in division games that season, too. Thus, for the Hogs to reach their full potential, they have to beat up on the bullies in the SEC West.
The Hogs look strong again this spring. QB Tyler Wilson returns, the offensive line should be solid, TB Knile Davis is back from injury, the defensive front looks stout and the defense as a whole should be better than it was last season.
Coach: Bobby Petrino (5th season)
Last season: 11-2 overall, 6-2 in SEC
Spring practice dates: March 14-April 21
(minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (6): G Alvin Bailey, TE Chris Gragg, WR Cobi Hamilton, T Grant Peacock, C Travis Swanson, QB Tyler Wilson
Defense (6): S Eric Bennett, T Byran Jones, T DeQuinta Jones, LB Alonzo Highsmith, CB Tevin Mitchel, E Tenarius Wright
Special teams (2): P Dylan Breeding, K Zach Hocker
But there are some issues, most notably at wide receiver. Arkansas had the nation’s best wide receiver group last season, but lost three key members. Coach Bobby Petrino needs two or three young receivers to step up this spring.
Petrino also needs a second pass-rushing end to emerge to play opposite rising star Tenarius Wright, a linebacker to replace the steady Jerry Franklin and two new starters in the secondary.
Special teams should be a strength.
In fact, the whole team looks strong. Again, though, it will all come down to beating Alabama and LSU, and winning the division.
The biggest problem: Wide receiver. Departing seniors Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs combined for 141 receptions, 2,009 yards and 20 total touchdowns last season. The Razorbacks have some reliable receivers, but aside from senior Cobi Hamilton (34 catches for 542 yards and four touchdowns) and sophomore Marquel Wade (one kickoff return for a touchdown), the question remains as to whether any of them are true playmakers. Expect the Hogs to lean on those two players as well as senior tight end Chris Gragg, who caught 41 passes for 518 yards and two touchdowns last season. While those three players seem like enough for most offenses, Bobby Petrino needs at three more reliable receivers to emerge. Arkansas did find a way to overcome injuries to their two biggest playmakers last season, Childs and TB Knile Davis, as they won 11 games.
On the spot: TB Knile Davis. Last year in fall camp, Davis looked bigger and badder than ever, but he broke his ankle in the first scrimmage and missed the season. Davis recently was taken off the rehabbing list and will go through spring practice. This is his third serious ankle injury since high school (the second was a re-break when he was a freshman). With so many playmaking wide receivers gone, Arkansas may need to rely more heavily on Davis, who rushed for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns on his way to first-team All-SEC honors in 2010. Arkansas needs Davis to return from this injury like he did his last one.
[ Related: South Carolina in good shape heading into spring ]
On the verge: WR Marquel Wade. He is the closest thing on the roster this spring to Adams and Wright. Wade fell off at the end of last season and did not have a reception after the fifth game; he also served a suspension late in the year because of a late-hit penalty. He made big plays on special teams, and even when he didn’t have the ball, he was often the guy making the big block downfield. He is expected to return kickoffs and punts again this season in addition to having a bigger role as a receiver.
General overview: Arkansas has to make some improvements on defense after finishing ninth in the SEC last season. New defensive coordinator Paul Haynes had been safeties coach at Ohio State and called a great game in the 27-16 win over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl; the Razorbacks gave up just 260 yards of total offense and registered seven sacks. Kevin Peoples is the new defensive tackles coach; he had been director of high school relations. Bobby Allen moves from coaching defensive tackles to overseeing the cornerbacks, and Taver Johnson, who had been cornerbacks coach at Ohio State, is the Hogs’ new linebacker coach. The Hogs have to find replacements for All-SEC performers Jake Bequette at defensive end and Jerry Franklin at linebacker as well as 2010 All-SEC member Tramain Thomas at safety.
For in-depth coverage of Arkansas athletics, go to HawgSports.com
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