Arkansas Football: What the Razorbacks Need to Fix Before Their First Game
While the SEC was all about LSU and Alabama last season, this may be the year for the Arkansas Razorbacks to finally take that next step in the conference. Arkansas finished 11-2 last season and fell just short of a conference championship. But this year, they return 13 starters, including seven from an offense that averaged nearly 37 points per game last season
While Arkansas had a very successful spring, it also had to deal with off-the-field distractions and still has a few questions that need answers. The spring only provides so much opportunity to deal with a few issues, that's why fall camp is so important for teams that are trying to take that next step.
As we inch closer to September, here are a few things the Arkansas Razorbacks still have to address.
Although Arkansas returns a lot of depth from last year, they still have a talented 2012 recruiting class arriving in the fall. Players like running back Jonathan Williams, defensive ends Taiwan Johnson and Deatrich Wise and wide receiver Keon Hatcher will have a chance to compete for playing time their first year on campus.
Arkansas has a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, but don't be surprised if one of those players steps up and helps contribute from day one for this team.
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Wright has been a playmaker at the defensive end position the last three years for Arkansas, but will likely play a new position this season at middle linebacker.
“It’s a dream come true,” Wright said. “I’m trying to live it.” (Via chuckoliver.net)
The senior is a tough player, who delivers a big blow and can provide leadership to a defense that lost a lot of pieces during the offseason. He'll have to continue to learn his position and fill in nicely because there isn't much depth at the linebacker position this year for Arkansas.
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We know Arkansas has one of the top passing games in the country, led by quarterback Tyler Wilson, but the running suffered mightily a year ago. A lot of that had to do with Heisman candidate running back Knile Davis missing the entire year with an ankle injury.
"He's been doing everything full speed," Bobby Petrino said. "He's been cutting, making everything, looks good. There's just something in consulting with our medical staff, and we made the decision that let's not tackle him today." (Via ESPN)
Davis avoided contact throughout the spring and spring game; it's going to be interesting to see if he can get back to regular form by the time the season starts. This is a back that rushed for over 1,300 yards and 14 total touchdowns in 2010, and will give this offense another weapon for the 2012 season, if he's healthy.
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Former head coach Bobby Petrino had one of the more bizarre offseasons in recent memory, and John L Smith has taken over as head coach. Smith was the special teams coach the last couple of seasons for the Razorbacks, so he is quite familiar with the program and the current roster.
The question is, how will this team's focus be and can they get on the same page as Smith in a short amount of time?
Smith is 79-65 in his career as a head coach, and has only won one bowl game out of seven appearances.
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The Arkansas defense is learning a new system under defensive coordinator Paul Haynes and it's even more difficult when the secondary doesn't have much experience to go off of. Haynes does have experience working with defensive backs (coached the safety position back at Ohio State), but there is a lot of questions in the defensive backfield.
Besides Eric Bennett and sophomore Tevin Mitchel, there isn't much to brag about with this unit. Bennett was fourth on the team with 74 tackles while Mitchel saw a lot of playing time his true-freshman season and finished the year with 56 tackles.
Other than those two players, there will be a lot of competition throughout the fall to see exactly who's ready to help improve a secondary that ranked 10th in the SEC last year.
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Arkansas is in great hands as long as Tyler Wilson remains the starting quarterback, but losing three key receivers, including your top two from last year isn't exactly good news. For the first time in his career, Cobi Hamilton is expected to become the No.1 option for this offense. Tight end Chris Gragg will also remain a big target, but there isn't much experience behind those two players.
Players such as Quinta Funderburke, Javontee Herndon and Julian Horton must take that next step in their careers and have a bigger impact in this offense. Combined they have 23 career receptions and zero touchdown catches.
True-freshman Keon Hatcher may also get a look for early playing time. He has solid speed, great hands and is terrific at picking up chunks of yards after the catch.
This position isn't really a concern, but it would be nice to see some players step up this fall at the wide receiver position.
Get off to a Fast Start
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With questions this team must answer before the season starts, it's extremely important that Arkansas gets off to a fast start and tries to get the most out of every practice. With a new head coach, questions on the defensive side of the ball and players changing positions, this will be a critical fall camp for a team that's looking to compete for a national championship.
Arkansas doesn't have much time to play around as it will play the Alabama Crimson Tide week three of the regular season. That is a game that will shake up the rankings and could possibly determine who wins the SEC West.