| FTBL Preseason Team Capsules; Arkansas



Preseason Team Capsules; Arkansas Razorbacks


Every year about this time college football fans begin to turn their attention towards the upcoming season. Hope springs eternal and optimism is generally at its highest point of the season for many coaches, players and fans. It will be no different in Fayetteville this summer, but along with the optimism of a new season comes a ton of question marks and concerns. If any team coming into the this season could be considered a true unknown it would have to be the Arkansas Razorbacks.

To the outsider looking in the program appears, well..gutted, and experiencing a big-time identity crisis as many of the program's main-stays are out the door for 2008. Gone are head coach Houston Nutt, tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, as well as one of the country's most versatile fullbacks in Peyton Hillis. Gone is the smash-mouthed, run on first down, second down, and third down attack that fans have become so accustomed to in the last decade or so in Fayetteville.

Bobby Petrino/Hogwired.com/nmnathletics.com
All of that taken together sounds like the makings of a long season in Fayetteville. Fact is, it probably will be. And it's likely to get worse before it gets better. But here's the upside to all of that. Bobby Petrino. With the hiring of Petrino the Hogs have a legitimate offensive mind to make use of all their young talent. Petrino is the anti-Nutt, or Bizarro-Nutt, if you will. For everything that Houston Nutt was (good or bad), Petrino seems to be the exact opposite (good or bad). Now regarding Petrino, say what you will. He's as likely to hop a plane out of Fayetteville at midnight as to show up at the postgame press conference, but he is a good coach. Couple that with the perception that Petrino has possibly boxed himself in given his job-hopping the last several years and Arkansas is probably in pretty good shape here over the long haul. While Petrino will most certainly leave for greener pastures it may be several seasons down the road. In that case one could, and should, reasonably assume that the Hogs will be in better shape than when Petrino found them.

As for 2008 the rebuilding process will be a difficult one. Even if we play pretend and just completely ignore the fact that Arkansas plays in arguably the nation's toughest conference and has a schedule featuring the likes of Texas, Alabama, Florida, and Auburn....in consecutive weeks..there's still the issue of culture change with this team. Historically Arkansas has been a running team that relies on a swarming, aggressive defense to keep games close until the ground attack beats opponents into submission. This is a completely different animal under Petrino, and at this point the Hogs just may not have the players to do much in 2008.


With Petrino it all starts with the offense. In this case however, it all starts with finding some. With the skill positions being virtually depleted, Petrino will likely spend much of the preseason looking for young play makers to fill the departed slots.

Luckily for Petrino he has one experienced offensive player to fall back on in senior quarterback Casey Dick. No one is ever going to Casey Dick with John Elway, and you could argue that he wasn't even the best quarterback on the team last year when McFadden lined up under center, but the guy did throw for 18 and 10. All the while doing that in a system that discouraged the quarterback from throwing the forward pass.

Casey Dick/msnbcmedia4.msn.com
While Dick may not have players like McFadden and Monk surrounding him this year he might just be in a better situation actually. With Houston Nutt he was never going to be able to do anything but hand off. Now with the new coaching staff Dick will not only be allowed to throw the ball, he'll be expected to. Under the former staff one bad throw might result in a benching, or at the very least, inserting McFadden into the quarterback's slot, but under Petrino we should expect Dick to have a lot more freedom. Petrino is going to throw the ball around and that isn't in debate. In order for the Hogs to do this the staff will have to stick with their senior signal caller and allow him to work through his mistakes. Dick and the offense were able to generate
production during the team's spring game. Whether this will translate into success on the SEC playing field is yet to be determined.

The top returning receivers appear to be Andrew Davie, Lucas Miller, D.J. Williams, London Crawford, Reggie Fish, and Carlton Salters. The group doesn't boast a great deal of production, but that is more due to the previous staff's offensive philosophy than it is the talent on hand.

Again, when speaking in terms of production, Davie (6-5, 266) is the team's top returning receiver but hauled in only 14 receptions in 2007, while playing tight end. Davie finished 5th on the team last season in catches as most of the offense went through the backfield. Another tight end, sophomore D.J. Williams (6-2, 250) ended the spring as one of the team's most impressive receivers (9 receptions for 80 yards and a score) and figures to play a prominent role in the Hogs offense in 2008.

Wideouts London Crawford, Reggie Fish and Carlton Salters finished last season with only 21 receptions between them, but appear to be the top prospects at the position going into the season, along with junior Marques Wade. Crawford and Salters both showed flashes in the spring and that has the staff excited about the possibilities.

The job of picking up the slack in the ground game will fall to diminutive junior Michael Smith (5-7, 175). Smith didn't get a ton of carries last year for obvious reasons, but he did show flashes when given the rock. His 319 yards on 46 carries translates into an average of over 6 yards per attempt. Another junior, Brandon Barnett will be spelling Smith. Barnett tallied almost 150 yards last season on only 24 carries.

The line will be anchored this year by a couple of talented and experienced players in guard Mitch Petrus and center Jonathan Luigs.

Luigs (6-4, 315) might be the best center in the country, and has the hardware to prove it. As a junior Luigs won the Rimington Trophy which goes to the nation's top center. He is also a Jacobs Trophy winner as well as a Walter Camp First-Team All-American.

Petrus (6-4, 305) is a solid addition to the offensive line and a nice counter part to Luigs. His Second-Team All-SEC honors last season are impressive considering it was his first season on the offensive line. Prior to that Petrus had been playing fullback. With a full season of experience under his belt Petrus should be even better this year.


If a drastic system change on offensive wasn't bad enough the new staff is also faced with the task of finding new starters for the majority of last year's defense. The problem was only magnified when the team's leading returning tackler, linebacker Freddie Fairchild was booted from the team for alleged battery. The staff's decision to move Chip Gregory to offense, coupled with Wendell Davis' knee surgery leaves the line backing corps in dire straights.

The new starting 'backer corps coming out of the spring appears to be a trio consisting of Elston Forte, Jerry Franklin in the middle and Ryan Powers on the weakside.

Forte is the leading returning tackler of the group (51 total stops) and started 6 of the team's 13 games last year, so he has ample experience. Powers saw action in 12 games as well and recorded 19 total tackles. Sophomores Freddy Burton and Jermaine Love will rotate through the corps as well.

The situation in the secondary isn't any better. In fact, it might be worse. The Hogs will have to replace the entire unit and the loss of All-SEC Second-Team strong safety Matt Hewitt is going to hurt considering he was the team's leading tackler last season with 118 stops. Taking over for the departed Hewitt will be senior Dallas Washington. Washington (6-0, 210) is a 3-year letterman who played in 12 games last season and totaled 22 tackles.

The other senior in the secondary is cornerback Jamar Love. Love played in every game last season while starting twice. He finished 2007 with 22 tackles, but more impressively, 3 for loss of yardage and 3 quarterback sacks.

One player to keep an eye on is sophomore corner Darrell Glasper. He's not listed as a starter coming out of the Spring, but could challenge Isaac Madison for the corner spot across from Love. Petrino has stated that while glasper started out at the bottom of the depth chart they can't seem to keep him there. He continually makes plays and Petrino really likes Glasper's instincts and hands.

The front four appears to be a mixed bag of sorts. The staff is still looking for play makers on the inside, but what initially appeared to be a trouble spot at defensive end now might end up being one of the defense' real strengths. Jake Bequette, Adrian Davis, Antwain Robinson, and Damario Ambrose all had good springs and will rotate through the ends during the upcoming season. Bequette (6-5, 265), a redshirt freshman, ended the Spring practices apparently locking up the left end spot. The staff has high praise for the youngster and expects him to be very good down the road. For now, Bequette is still learning the position, but he possesses a nice combination of size and strength and is described as a "high motor" guy.


The kicking game isn't expected to change at all from last year as the Hogs return both kickers for 2008. Senior punter Jeremy Davis had a nice junior campaign punting 60 times for a healthy 40 yard per punt average and a long of 54 yards. He also had an impressive 19 punts dropped within the opponent's 20-yard line.

Handling the place kicking again is sophomore Alex Tejada. Tejada converted 17 of his 23 field goal attempts last season with a long of 47 yards. His 4 of 7 from 40 or more yards out is impressive.

The return duties are not nearly as sorted out at this point. The only players with even marginal experience are tailback Michael Smith and receiver Reggie Fish. Fish returned 7 punts last season and may get the nod to handle the chores again, though it's unknown if the staff will allow Smith to handle returns since he's a starter.
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