Published May 7, 2012 - 11:27am
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Head Coach: Well, isn’t this a loaded sub-section. As we all are aware, Bobby Petrino is no longer the head coach for the Hogs, and Arkansas has hired Weber State head coach John L. Smith to take over in the interim. Smith, of course, coached under Petrino the last three years as the special teams coach. Smith has head coaching experience at Idaho, Utah State, Louisville and Michigan State before he recently signed his short-term contract to serve as interim head coach. His overall coaching record is 132-86. The bottom line is that Arkansas, led by Smith, might not really explode this season like we all thought when Petrino was the coach; however, this team will not regress much, if any at all. Smith brings an intimate knowledge of this team, having coached them the last three years. He knows their strengths; he will be fine in year one. The question then becomes exactly how long Smith will be the head coach of the Hogs after this season.
Offensive Line: All Arkansas fans cringed last year when QB Tyler Wilson took so many shots. Hogs fans found out just how tough Wilson really was. This year, Arkansas hopes to make improvements along the offensive front to help protect their star quarterback. The main negative aspect from the spring was that top returning tackle Jason Peacock was arrested for stealing another student’s debit card. He’s suspended indefinitely, and we’re unsure how Coach Smith will discipline him during the season. We can assume he’ll miss some time, though. David Hurt will likely step into Peacock’s role. At the opposite tackle, Brey Cook looks to have solidified himself into that starting role. He’s a very talented lineman who had a ton of upside coming out of high school. Guards Tyler Deacon, Mitch Smothers, Alvin Bailey and Luke Charpentier will all battle for playing time. Travis Swanson will hold down the center position, as he was a Rimington Trophy Watch Lister last year. All in all, Arkansas’ first team offensive line will be okay; however, there is not much depth here.
Running Back: Exiting spring, I would put Arkansas’ running back position as one of the deepest in the SEC, right up there with LSU. Knile Davis returns from his ankle fracture that sidelined him all of last year. Davis led the SEC in rushing in 2010, and he was arguably the best back during that season. However, behind Davis is where it really gets interesting. Dennis Johnson returns as the leading back from last year in Davis’ absence. Johnson will also have a major effect on the kickoff team as well. Davis and Johnson, to my knowledge, have not played a full season together because of injuries; so, we’re not sure how they complement one another in that respect. In addition to both Davis and Johnson, Ronnie Wingo returns. While Davis and Johnson have All-SEC caliber talent, Wingo is a good change-up to both backs because of his receiving ability and size he brings to the table. He caught 20 passes last year, including two touchdowns. This is arguably the deepest and most talented backfield in the SEC for 2012, and we all cannot wait to see Davis get back in uniform.
Quarterback: Along with having what could be the most talented set of running backs in the SEC, Arkansas has the leading passer returning for his senior season. Tyler Wilson would have most likely been a first-round pick in this year’s draft; however, he decided to bring his talents back to Fayetteville. Wilson can make all the throws on the field, but he will undoubtedly be affected by the absence of play-caller Bobby Petrino. Instead, offensive coordinator Paul Petrino will command the offense; so, there will be a difference in the calling, but we are unsure what that will look like and what effect it might have on both Wilson and the offense. Brandon Mitchell and Brandon Allen back up Wilson this season, with Allen having the slight edge as the No. 2 guy right now.
Wide Receiver & Tight End: The biggest question mark exiting spring and entering summer workouts is the development of the wide receivers. A mass exodus of sorts just happened when Greg Childs, Joe Adams and Jarius Wright all left. The one receiver from last year who does return is Cobi Hamilton. While Hamilton might not be any of the three who left, he’s a familiar face and a proven target who Wilson can rely on in tough downs and tight spots. Julian Horton, Javontee Herdon, Maudrecus Humphery and Marquel Wade will all see their playing time and receptions double this year. Horton is a guy who looks like he can step in and really take up some slack. Both Horton and Herdon are around 6’1” and native Floridians, but both are unproven. Then again, the dynamic trio that left were all virtually unknowns, too, before their breakout years. Tight end is one of the better positions on the team with Chris Gragg. Gragg caught 41 passes for 518 yards and two touchdowns a year ago. I think Gragg and Hamilton will be the main go-to receivers, and it will give others a chance to develop as the year progresses. Gragg has the most upside and could be the primary target for Wilson.
Defensive Line: Arkansas certainly does have a big, physical defensive line. The biggest move made at this position is that former end Tenarius Wright’s move to linebacker. However, ends Chris Smith and Austin Flynn should be starting opposite one another. Smith saw limited action last year, and Flynn is a JUCO transfer who resembles Samson with his long flowing brown hair. Another player to keep an eye on here is Trey Flowers. Flowers had two sacks in the spring game, and showed some flashes a year ago. The Hogs’ defensive tackles are mammoths in Bryan Jones, DeQuinta Jones and Robert Thomas. All three are over 300lbs, and they are ready to clog some holes and manhandle some linemen. All three will play interchangeably because all three can make an impact.
Linebackers & Backs: Linebacker was another question mark heading into spring practice, but defensive end Wright’s move to middle linebacker will help provide a big body. Wright will be accompanied by Matt Marshall and Jarrett Lake as they fight it out on one side, while the proven Alonzo Highsmith returns on the other. Highsmith was the do-it-all guy last year, as he had 80 tackles on the season. Another name to watch out for is Robert Atiga, as he really showed some flashes that he can help this team at a position of need. The defensive backfield is quite a strong position exiting spring for the Hogs. Three returning starters fill the first team at three positions. Corners Tevin Mitchel and Darius Winston both return, and maybe Winston will finally live up to the hype that accompanied him upon entering as a freshman. Mitchel is a very solid cover corner. Safety Eric Bennett is the only proven returning starter here, but Alan Turner, Jerry Mitchell, Ross Rasner and Darrell Smith all return and will likely battle it out for the other safety position.
Special Teams: The kicking and punting duties will be just fine, as both Zach Hocker and Dylan Breeding return, and both are All-SEC caliber. Dennis Johnson will likely be the kickoff return man, and he took one 98 yards to the house against South Carolina last year. Punt returner Joe Adams was so dynamic, but he’s gone now – so someone will need to step up in Adams’ absence.
Can the Hogs win the West? If you’re asking me this question in February, I say there is a very strong possibility. However, with the absence of Bobby Petrino’s play calling, the offense might not be as potent as it has been. Now, I fully expect the offense to score points, but they’re just not as good without Petrino calling the plays, in my eyes. With that being said, there is something to say about a group of players that rally when their backs are against the wall. And the upperclassmen’s backs are against the wall. Wilson and Davis both have something to say in the SEC West this season.