The Arkansas Razorbacks are widely viewed as a top 25 team for 2010.
Arkansas is viewed had one of the most exciting offenses in the nation, led by Heisman hopeful Ryan Mallett.
However, the Razorbacks’ defense is believed to be holding the Hogs back, and maybe the difference between a breakout 2010 or another OK season like 2009.
If there’s one group that has plenty to prove next season, it’s the secondary.
Last year, Arkansas led the conference with 37.3 points per game (first in the SEC).
The offense had the ability to put up a lot points in a hurry. However, the defense could give up a lot of points, just as quickly.
The defense allowed the most plays in the SEC of 60 yards or more on scoring plays.
A huge point of emphasis this spring has to be shoring up a porous secondary. Highly touted recruits Darius Winston and David Gordon will be returning, along with one of the best secondary classes in Arkansas' recruiting history.
Arkansas’ 2009 recruiting class featured the two freshmen studs, but also relied heavily on JUCO transfers from The College of the Sequoias, Anthony Leon and Andru Stewart, along with Butler County Community College transfer Rudell Crim.
Here’s what the the depth chart looks like as we head into spring practice, along with battles to watch for during the spring football season.
Each secondary member will appear in the order they appeared on the latest depth chart.
Crim was recruited by Bobby Petrino when he was the head coach at Louisville.
Crim transferred from Butler County Community College and by the middle of the season, was one of the Hog’s most reliable cornerbacks.
In addition to starting at cornerback, he also took a few snaps at safety.
He’s showed the versatility to play both positions when called upon and will have plenty to prove in his final year of college eligibility.
Crim holds down the No. 1 spot on the depth chart.
Darius Winston was the five-star jewel of the 2009 recruiting class.
Winston was spread a little thin when he stepped on campus at Arkansas. I think it overwhelmed him and might have stymied his growth in his freshman year.
His fall camp was spent splitting time between special teams and the defense.
He has performed well in off-season workouts and has recently received praise from Coach Petrino for his efforts.
Before Madison lost his season to an ACL tear in fall camp, it was reported that he was the most improved player in Arkansas’ secondary.
Hopefully, he took advantage of his missing season and spent his time studying an increasingly intricate defensive scheme.
Not on the pre-spring depth chart because of injury
Gordon’s speed is well documented.
He might be the fastest in the Arkansas secondary and logged quality snaps in his freshman campaign.
Despite being a three-star recruit, he out-shined his five-star counterpart Darius Winston.
He’s another young player with the physical tools and now, the experience to possibly make him a dangerous player in the SEC.
Gordon will not take any contact as he still recovers from a season-ending injury, but people are optimistic that he will be healed by the fall.
Broadway has seen significant playing time in what was a thin secondary over the last two years.
This spring will be crucial for him to work on his technique.
Tackling was a problem for the majority of the defense and if he can perfect his basics and start doing the simple things without thinking, he has the physical tools and the game experience to be a good corner.
Broadway had a great off-season, and was recently clocked at a sub-4.3 40 time-the fastest on the team.
Broadway’s hard work has him No. 1 on the depth chart, opposite Crim.
Thomas enters his junior campaign as a well-seasoned veteran and tops the depth chart at the free safety position.
He played in all 12 games his freshman season and saw regular action last season.
Last year, he had a mammoth spring that included an interception with a 20—yard return in the red-white game.
He also had a momentum changing pick-six in the Liberty Bowl.
Hopefully another good spring will translate into success in this fall.
Stewart is part of the College of The Sequoias haul from the 2009 class that was expected to play immediately.
Stewart enrolled early last season and will be entering his second spring football season.
He, like Crim, saw significant action last season in a secondary that was thin and constantly shuffling players around.
Stewart had a setback in 2009 when Petrino was unhappy with how he was doing in the classroom, but on the field, he progressed every week.
Elton Ford showed a lot of courage last season, coming back from the broken neck he suffered in his freshman season.
When most players would be hesitant to put their helmet into a tackle, Ford came out last fall, eager to hit.
Ford got the start in last season’s Liberty Bowl appearance after Matt Harris was suspended for the game, ending Harris’ career at Arkansas.
Leon, the cousin of the late Sean Taylor, was the most highly coveted of the JUCO transfers from last year's recruiting class.
He started his college career at Florida State and was a highly sought-after recruit his senior year in high school.
Things didn’t work out at FSU, and he spent the next two years at The College of The Sequoias.
Leon did see a good bit of playing time, but spent a lot of last year as a backup.
His highlight film shows that he has the speed and pop on his tackles that made his cousin an NFL star.
Petrino commented on Leon in the pre-spring press conference and believes that one year in the system and a great off-season has Leon prepped for a breakout 2010 season.
Jerry Mitchell red-shirted last season.
He was a three-star recruit from Louisiana and appears behind Anthony Leon on the depth chart.
This fall, incoming freshman Daunte Carr, might challenge him for his position in the depth chart.
Spring football might be the needed jump for him to retain his No. 2 spot.
Mitchell has excellent size and speed that Arkansas coaches hope to develop, so going deep on the Razorbacks is a dangerous task.
Spring football is all about learning, and if these players can learn better technique and gain a better understanding of the defensive scheme, they have the experience to have a much improved unit by next fall.
Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson took personal responsibility for them last season and brought them together as a unit.
Hopefully, his close attention will shape up a unit that might be under the most scrutiny for next year.
Simply put, watching deep passes get completed over the head of a defensive back that isn’t even looking for the ball, will not be tolerated this season.
They all have the experience and the talent to be vastly improved in 2010, and the competition in the secondary is going to be fierce.