Pre-Spring Offseason Forecast: Arkansas

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With the offseason officially underway, SDS will examine what’s next for spring football for all 14 teams. Next up, Arkansas.

What’s changing

Maybe better questions would be what isn’t changing and what must change. Arkansas appropriately went another direction from John L. Smith and made an unexpected hire in Bret Bielema, who topped the board, but we just didn’t know he was on the board. Bielema brings his new staff in and will attempt to instill a level of toughness notably absent from last year’s team. In other words, Bielema has to change the culture of the program, and that’s not easy to do.  Bielema hired former Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and brought with him from Wisconsin defensive coordinator Chris Ash. Bielema and his staff’s biggest impact will come on the defensive side of the ball, and the mindset starts this spring.

Position of concern

The top position of concern facing Bielema is the quarterback. With Tyler Wilson now gone, this position is first on the pecking order. There are some obvious bodies here in backups Brandon Allen and converted receiver Brandon Mitchell. And help is on the way with freshman Austin Allen, but Bielema and Chaney have to get someone ready to play this spring. Brandon Allen looks like the most logical for a pro-style system, but he sure looked overmatched and far from ready last season backing up Wilson. In fact, Allen starting at quarterback would make Mitchell an option at receiver, too.

Emerging spring player prediction

Although AJ Turner had a strong freshman year, Otha Peters will be this spring’s breakout player. Peters is a great looking young middle linebacker who must develop rather quickly to be a weapon in ‘13. He totaled 32 tackles last season, and he should develop into the anchor for the Hogs’ defense. Peters will be the talk of spring practice.

Three signees to be excited about

1. Alex Collins, RB: Collins combined with Jonathan Williams in the backfield will be one of the stronger duos in the SEC. Collins won’t hit campus until this summer, but the anticipation is great for him to be the marquee back in Bielema’s new offense.

2. Carroll Washington, CB: The Hogs need immediate help at corner, and Washington arrives just in time. The early enrollee is a fantastic athlete who could develop into the starter opposite Tevin Mitchell.

3. Hunter Henry, TE: Remember how good DJ Williams was and what an asset and weapon he was on offense? That’s Hunter Henry. The 6-6, 240-pound Henry will develop into one of the best tight ends in the SEC before his time is up. He needs to add a little weight before he becomes a strong blocker, but he’ll be used as a weapon in the passing game.

What needs to improve

One of the weakest links to a very disappointing defense in 2012 was the secondary. Although the run defense looked capable at times, the secondary looked lost and allowed an SEC-worst 285-plus yards per game through the air. Getting a healthy Tevin Mitchell back for a full season will be gravy, but losing the biggest impact player in the group in Ross Rasner is a tough hit. Safety returners Eric Bennett, Jerry Mitchell, Alan Turner and Rohan Gaines combine with Mitchell, Will Hines and Davyon McKinney at corner. With an added year of experience in a new system, you’ll see the benefits paying off next season.

Previous Offseason Forecasts:

Photo Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

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