Razorback Football: 5 Players Who Must Step Up During the Bobby Petrino Scandal
Leadership roles, ironically enough, are not always a matter of a conscious choice being made in a moment of adversity. It is in that moment of vulnerability in the aftermath where true leaders answer the call.
For the 2012 Arkansas Razorbacks, the moment of adversity could not have come at a more inconvenient time, or been more monumentally earth-shattering.
A potential top 10 team with the most navigable schedule in recent memory finds their elite head coach embroiled in the largest, most public scandal in the school’s history.
Sounds like a time for the leaders on the squad to put individual desires aside and uplift their teammates during this tumultuous period.
Who are the five players who must rise to the occasion for the Hogs to fulfill their aspirations in 2012?
5. Alonzo Highsmith
It is true that Bobby Petrino focused his attention both in practice and on game day on offense. In addition, the hires of former Ohio State Buckeye co-defensive coordinators Paul Haynes and Taver Johnson will implement an empirically successful system of excellence into the Razorback defense.
But each of these factors means little once the ball is snapped on Saturdays. For the Razorback defense to truly overcome the obstacles currently confronting them, it will need veteran players who have raised their level of play during big games.
Enter linebacker Alonzo Highsmith.
Despite just being a sophomore with no prior experience suiting up for the Razorbacks, Highsmith's contributions were a key component to Hogs’ defensive success, playing in all 13 games while accounting for 80 total tackles (third on the team), and 4.5 sacks (second on the team).
Given the graduation of defensive stalwarts Jerry Franklin and Jerico Nelson from the linebacking corps, the burden of leadership along the second level of the Razorback defense will fall to Highsmith.
With the scandal currently facing the Razorbacks, this role takes on even greater meaning and importance.
When the Razorback defense takes the field in 2012, look for Highsmith to take an elevated position among his peers. Their success could largely depend on his acceptance of that reality.
4. Cobi Hamilton
It is no secret that the Razorback receiving corps will look quite different in 2012 than it did in 2011. The graduation of three seniors, two of whom will go down as the top two receivers in the history of the program, will do that.
Even with the graduation of Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs, the Razorbacks still have one established receiver with a long resume of explosive plays in big games.
Even in a time of upheaval, the Razorbacks can still feel good about being in the hands of Cobi Hamilton.
Although his production dipped slightly in 2011 (542 receiving yards in 2011 compared to 630 yards in 2010), Hamilton came through when the Razorbacks most needed him, contributing a big touchdown reception in the Cotton Bowl against Kansas State.
Hamilton's prized combination of great route running and breakaway speed will be heavily relied upon if Petrino's incomparable play-calling skills are absent in 2012. Yet in the event of the head coach's departure, Hamilton will need to the show strong leadership skills befitting of a seasoned veteran in helping cultivate the development of burgeoning receivers Marquel Wade, Javontee Herndon and Julian Horton.
If the Razorback offense is to continue with its prolific levels of achievement in 2012 amid a tumult, look for Cobi Hamilton to be a stabilizing force.
3. Travis Swanson
One of the constant criticisms the Razorbacks were forced to endure during the 2011 season was the porous play of its offensive line. If one needs a microcosm of this for the season, watch the game film or peruse through the stat sheet of the Razorback's performance in the first half against Texas A&M.
Yet as the season progressed the offensive line improved, peaking in a respectable performance in the Cotton Bowl.
Augmenting this improvement was the solid, steady Travis Swanson. In the complicated pro-style system that Arkansas utilizes, many important protection calls need to be made by the center to ensure the offensive line is properly set for the play. Swanson handled this duty with calculated efficiency both as a freshman in 2010 and a sophomore in 2011.
Much like an impending blitz, Swanson will have to deal with immense scrutiny while attempting to both continue the offensive excellence and meet the elevated expectations for the offensive line in 2012. How well Swanson, and the rest of the offensive line, deals with this terrible trifecta will go a long way in determining whether the Hogs' season will end in disappointment or elation.
2. Knile Davis
Until a certain motorcycle incident took place on April Fools Day, the most depressing day in recent memory for Razorback fans was August 11, 2011. On that day, explosive Arkansas tailback Knile Davis suffered a horrific season-ending ankle injury.
Hopes for another 1,300-yard season? Dashed.
Dreams of a balanced offensive attack led by the leading rusher among SEC running backs? Gone.
Davis endured a painful season (no pun intended) helplessly watching as the Razorbacks struggled to establish a running game.
After flirting with the NFL draft, Davis ultimately decided to remain a Razorback, and, by all accounts, he's working tirelessly to recover from the injury that ruined his 2011 season.
Heading into a 2012 season transformed by constant media scrutiny that doesn't seem to be subsiding anytime soon, the eyes of Razorback nation will be firmly entrenched upon Davis.
How effective of a runner will he be? Can he regain the explosiveness that led to his breakout season in 2010? Will Davis play an even bigger role in the offense if Petrino isn't calling the plays?
How Davis answers these three questions will not only determine whether he is a viable NFL prospect, but the level of success the Razorback offense achieves in 2012.
1. Tyler Wilson
It may be among the most tired cliches in football, but it is a perfect encapsulation of the 2012 Arkansas Razorback football team's outlook.
A football team can only go as far as the quarterback can take them.
Following a season where single-game and season passing records were eclipsed, expectations couldn't be higher for one Tyler Wilson.
Wilson, fresh off a 2011 season where he threw for 3,648 yards and 24 touchdowns, will garner significant preseason accolades, but his most important preseason activity will be how he deals with the Bobby Petrino scandal, both on and off the field.
Famous for standing strong while enduring heated tirades from his head coach after failed offensive possessions, Wilson is now facing a media firestorm that dwarfs any of Petrino's criticism of his play.
But if last season is any indication, Tyler Wilson possesses the mettle to be the leader his team so desperately needs in this current state of flux. Despite having to follow in the footsteps of Ryan Mallett, Wilson earned the respect of his teammates last season, being elected as a team captain and willing the team to exciting victories against the likes of Texas A&M and South Carolina.
If the Arkansas Razorbacks are to survive Motorcyclegate and perform up to expectations in 2012, expect the aw-shucks QB from Greenwood to be leading the way.