The college football season is still a few months away, but championship programs are built in the spring.
Spring football is the time for a team to iron out the last few remaining kinks as they prepare for kickoff. The Arkansas Razorbacks are one of those teams that are focused on improving on last season, and it all starts with spring ball.
If the Razorbacks want to have a successful campaign in 2011, here are seven things that they need to iron out.
Like many college teams, the Arkansas Razorbacks lost players to graduation or the NFL. Those players will be difficult to replace since many of them played pivotal positions and provided on-field leadership.
Luckily for the Razorbacks, they have plenty of returning experience as well. The Razorbacks return 15 starters from their 2010 squad that recorded a 10-3 season record and made the school’s first BCS appearance.
This includes returning experience on the sidelines as the Razorbacks’ entire full-time coaching staff remained intact throughout the offseason.
Ryan Mallett was the leader and offensive nucleus of the Razorbacks last year, but will be in the NFL this year, prompting the Hogs to look for a new signal-caller.
Junior Tyler Wilson is listed as the team’s No. 1 quarterback and will most likely get the nod to start the season. With his excellent showing against Auburn last year and an extensive knowledge of the offense, Wilson is the obvious selection.
Arkansas will give backups Brandon Mitchell and Jacoby Walker a chance to shine during spring ball. Mitchell is likely to get the nod in the second spot, with redshirt freshman Walker rounding out the group.
The Razorbacks have a bevy of offensive talent in the skill positions, but they will need a productive front line to make it all come together. That is why the offensive line may be the most critical thing to watch in spring ball.
DeMarcus Love, Ray Dominguez and Wade Grayson were three starters a year ago that will need to be replaced. Head coach Bobby Petrino hit the recruiting trail hard this offseason to gather some size on the offensive line.
True freshman Brey Cook enrolled early at Arkansas and it's paying off, as he is being considered for a spot at tackle. Cook will challenge Jason Peacock for a spot at tackle, while Grant Freeman and Anthony Oden fight for the other tackle position.
Petrino has mentioned that the Razorbacks may consider moving players around on the line to play either guard or tackle, depending on the situation. Petrino wants all five players on the same page so that when the season starts, the execution is flawless.
The secondary is always an area for concern in the pass-happy SEC. What once used to be an area of concern for the Hogs is now one of their strengths. The Razorbacks seem to be getting better every year in the secondary.
Returning veterans Isaac Madison and Darius Winston will engage in a fierce battle for a spot at one of the corners.
Sophomore Jerry Mitchell will go up against De'Anthony Curtis for the other corner. As of now, Mitchell has the edge—but until spring ball is complete, anything can happen.
There have been other changes in the defensive backfield, as Eric Bennett has moved from cornerback to safety, which will take some time to adjust to.
How this group adjusts during the spring may be the difference in the Razorbacks featuring a top-notch defense in the fall.
Arkansas will have to learn how to play without key players early in the season, starting with spring practice.
Receiver Greg Childs (knee), defensive tackle Byran Jones (ankle) and D.D. Jones (shoulder) are recovering from offseason surgeries. This will give the backups time to learn during the spring, so if injuries linger or occur during the season, the Hogs will be ready.
The Razorbacks were one scooped punt away from beating Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl last year and Petrino has not forgotten about that one play.
On the first day of spring ball, Petrino started a scoop-and-score drill that he intends to perfect during spring practice. The drill involves scooping a towel then scooping the football.
The next time that the Hogs block a kick, they want to make sure that they bring it to the house.
Although talent is paramount, leadership on the field is very important.
On offense, Ryan Mallett and DeMarcus Love provided the leadership. On defense, it was Anthony Leon and Ramon Broadway that led the way for the Hogs.
Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee already acknowledged the lack of leadership and challenged the team to step it up. Running back Knile Davis is expected to step up on offense and the jury is still out on defense.
The emergence of a true leader on both sides of the ball will be important to the growth of this team.
There is good reason to be excited about the 2011 edition of the Arkansas Razorbacks, but only time will tell if they can compete for the top spot in the country.
Matt Regaw is a B/R Featured Columnist and the founder of BookieBlitz.com, your one-stop shop for sports articles, previews and predictions. Feel free to contact Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.