Even after a disappointing 5-7 outing last year, the Arkansas Razorback players and coaches have a spring (sorry, pun intended) in their step this Spring. Many players have gained weight and maintained or even gained speed in off-season workouts and the attitude and work ethic during the offseason has transferred to Spring practice with many players trying to solidify or win a starting position.
With 16 freshmen starting or making significant contributions last season, the Razorbacks are ripe with young talent that now has SEC experience and a year under Coach Petrino's system.
But Coach Petrino believes in competition and even incoming or red-shirt freshmen will have a chance to win a starting spot or playing time. Which new faces will make a difference this year for the Hogs? Let's do some name dropping, so when they are famous, we can say “I told you so!”
Ok, maybe Ryan Mallett shouldn't be considered a new face, since he started several games at Michigan during his freshmen season (61/141 892 YD 7 TD 5 INT), but after sitting out a year at Arkansas he has shown off his strong arm in practice and appears to be the heir apparent.
Hog fans are pleased and excited about his potential to say the least. Don't count out medical hardship red-shirt freshman Tyler Wilson (11/22 69 YD 1 TD 2 INT last season) though. He has looked good during spring practice and has all the skills to give Mallett a run for his money, or at least push him to improve. Jim Youngblood is solid as well and said to be the best running QB of the three.
It appeared the Razorbacks had a virtual plethora of powerful and speedy backs ready to explode into Spring practice this year. True freshman Knile Davis (4-star, out of Texas) impressed coaches and fans alike with his work ethic and speed, but broke his ankle and will be out for the rest of the Spring.
Broderick Green, a 4 star transfer from USC, is a powerful but speedy bruiser who is the kind of big running back that Coach Petrino has been looking for...but his status is uncertain and he may or may not be available for fall pending a NCAA decision.
Two backs from last year are injured (Michael Smith, Dennis Johnson), but De' Anthony Curtis, who had 23 carries last year, has stood out in practice and Brandon Barnett, also with a few carries from last year, has returned to practice after a death in the family.
Injuries heal and all or most of the above may be available in the Fall. Add Adrian Moore a transfer from Oklahoma State, incoming freshmen Ronnie Wingo, Jr. (4 star out of Missouri) and Turell Williams (3 star from Arkansas) and you can see playing time is up for grabs.
Arkansas is strong in the receiver positions with most receivers who got playing time last year returning. But Cobi Hamilton (3 star, Texarkana, TX) and Neal Barlow (3 star, LR, Arkansas) have good hands and enough speed to get some playing time if they do well in Fall practice.
Several more incoming recruits are listed as athlete and may be used at the position as well. Ben Cleveland, after two injury plagued seasons, should contribute at Tight End and receiver Chris Gragg has been moved to TE; if he can get his blocking technique down, he may be a force to be reckoned with.
The Hogs have added some big ones to the trough in this recruiting class, including Anthony Oden (6' 8” 328 lb, 4 star, Virginia) and Colby Berna (6' 4” 275 lb, 4 star, Arkansas). A whole slew of incoming 3 star talent is available as well. The question is: can the incoming freshmen learn Coach Petrino's system quickly enough to earn some game time this Fall? Matt Hall (6' 10” 320 lb, 4 star, Arkansas) has a year under his belt and this may be the year he gets to see some action.
The Razorbacks have gone out and recruited what very well may be the #1 class of defensive backs in the country. Experienced JUCO transfers include: Rudell Crim (4 star Cornerback), Anthony Leon (4 star Safety), and Andru Stewart (3 star Cornerback).
Incoming freshmen include: highly touted Darius Winston (5 star Cornerback from Arkansas), Jerry Mitchell (3 star Safety from Louisiana), and speedster David Gordon (3 star Cornerback out of Tulsa, OK), who recently ran a 10.17 second 100 meter dash. This should be a fun battle to watch and several should see significant playing time.
JUCO transfer DT John Henderson (6' 1” 300 lb) adds depth and may have an immediate impact on the front line with a good chance to see some rotation. Incoming freshmen DT DeQuinta “D.D.” Jones (6' 4” 305 lb 4 star) has excellent technique and may have a chance to play as well.
One surprise at Defensive End may be red-shirt freshman Tenarius “Tank” Wright who has gained sufficient weight and strength to be moved to that position from Linebacker.
Punter? What? Point of interest here is that Ryan Mallett has been handling punting duties this Spring and not doing a bad job. JUCO transfer Briton Forester will arrive this fall, but having a QB who can punt as well could add an interesting dimension to the kicking game.
The Hogs have 17 starters coming back this Fall and that experience should help both sides of ball be better than last year. Coach Petrino has stated that he will make sure the best players get on the field and have a chance to make plays. The battles at the Quarterback, Running Back, and Defensive Back positions should be especially exciting to watch.
I am sure some of the battles will end up with new faces making their debut this Fall and others that have seen little playing time will have the opportunity to make big contributions and big plays after the season starts. With more experienced starters and exciting new faces coming to Fayetteville this year, don't be surprised if the Razorbacks surprise.