Arkansas Razorbacks Preview

Perhaps the SEC’s most improved team, Arkansas Razorbacks Head coach Bob Petrino hasn’t been the best recruiter since arriving at Arkansas, but if he keeps coaching ‘em up like this, it won’t matter.

Returning Offensive Starters: 6 (SE, FL, WR, LG, C, RB)
Returning Defensive Starters: 7 (RDE, RDT, LDT, SLB, MLB, LCB, FS)
Returning Specialists: 2 (P, PK)

Projected Overall Record: 11-1 (UA)
Projected SEC Record: 7-1 (UA)
Projected SEC West Record: 4-1 (UA)

Ratings (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr)
Quarterbacks: Vg
Running Backs: Ex
Wide Receivers: Ex
Offensive Line: Vg
Defensive Line: Vg
Linebackers: Vg
Defensive Backs: Vg
Special Teams: Vg

OFFENSE

Arkansas is a full-bore passing spread, three receivers on every play and plenty of speed. But last year, the running game got its due with the emergence of Knile Davis. The focus this fall is on the offensive line, which has plenty of experience but is unsettled. There’s also a minor battle going on at quarterback.

QUARTERBACKS (rating: Vg, 2nd SEC West, 4th overall)
If anyone other than Tyler Wilson wins the job, fans will be shocked. Wilson threw for more than 300 yards in less than a full game at Auburn in relief of Ryan Mallett last year and it’s hard to imagine a scenario that he doesn’t beat out Brandon Mitchell for the job. Wilson is not Mallett, however; he’s much smaller, albeit much more mobile. He throws on the run better than Mallett did and Arkansas fans are hoping he doesn’t melt down mentally like Mallett was wont to do. Mitchell is bigger and more of a prototypical pocket passer. Redshirt freshman Jacoby Walker rounds out the competition for the moment, although signee Brandon Allen will eventually join the battle. Walker is a dual-threat quarterback who needs polish on his passing skills.

RUNNING BACKS (rating: Ex, 2nd SEC West, 2nd overall)
Knile Davis was set to give Arkansas a leg up in the running back category until he suffered a leg injury in fall camp Aug. 11. Now, this category is up in the air. In 2010, Davis broke out of a pack of runners vying for the position early last season, and never looked back as he amassed 1,322 yards on 204 carries (6.48 avg.). Behind him, Arkansas has two SEC-ready backs that each have their own style. Ronnie Wingo Jr. is similar to Davis, big (6’3”, 230 pounds) with good speed and athleticism. Broderick Green is a pure destroyer, but has never averaged much per carry and lacks breakaway speed. He injured a knee in the spring, however, and his status is uncertain. Dennis Johnson adds quickness to the mix. Signee Kody Walker looks like a clone of Wingo and Davis. Although Arkansas does not use a fullback full-time in its offense, the Razorbacks did bring in Kiero Small in their recruiting class. Small is anything but – he goes 5’10”, 255 pounds and figures to become a key part of the Razorbacks’ short-yardage set.

WIDE RECEIVERS (rating: Ex, 1st SEC West, 1st overall)
Arkansas starts three receivers as part of its base, and the depth doesn’t stop there. Greg Childs is probably now the conference’s best “big” receiver, as he is listed at 6’3” but plays closer to 6’6”. Smaller cornerbacks hate him. Joe Adams and Jarius Wright are mirror images of one another, fast and athletic with the ability to power out of jams. All three are seniors and have experience going against the best defensive backs the conference has to offer. If that’s not enough, Cobi Hamilton is available off the bench. He started last year during the times Adams or Childs were out with injury. Julian Horton, Javonte Herndon and Maudrecus Humphrey, the latter the son of former Alabama great Bobby Humphrey, andd depth. Two signees of note, Marquel Wade and Quinta Funderburk, figure to make an impact this year. Funderburk is a Childs clone. One possible sticking point for Arkansas this year will be replacing D.J. Williams at tight end. Converted wideout Chris Gragg will get first shot at it, but Austin Tate and Colton Miles-Nash figure to make an impact as well.

OFFENSIVE LINE (rating: Vg, 3rd SEC West, 4th overall)
Opinions vary widely here. By class and experience, Arkansas is near the top of the SEC in terms of returning units. But the Razorbacks still need to find three new starters, and results were uneven in the spring. Center Travis Swanson anchors the group, and left guard Alvin Bailey returns as well. But both are still young. At left tackle, Anthony Oden appears to have won the left tackle job, but right tackle is still up for grabs between junior Jason Peacock, senior Grant Freeman and Brey Cook, a sophomore. Senior Grant Cook will start at the other guard slot opposite Bailey. Seth Oxner provides further depth at center and guard, while freshmen Luke Charpentier and Cam Feldt round out the depth chart at tackle and guard, respectively. The success or failure of this group will likely fall to Oden, who is raw but massive at 6’8”, 350 pounds. If he struggles, the entire line will likely follow.

DEFENSE

If Arkansas is going to make waves in the national championship race, it will be up to the defense to get the job done. Arkansas is off to a good start; last year’s team ranked only “fair” in all three categories. This year, the Razorbacks rank “very good” across the board. It all starts up front with a defensive line that is among the league’s most experienced, and the linebackers are likewise veterans. The Hogs run a 4-3 set that is fairly basic in scope, and the ability to keep big plays to a minimum has been a problem spot in past seasons.

DEFENSIVE LINE (rating: Vg, 2nd SEC West, 3rd overall)
Nobody likes to face defensive end Jake Bequette. Bequette has grown into his frame and is now close to 6’4”, 270 pounds. He is tough against the run but is also effective as a pass rusher, and he’s known to play with an active mean streak. Across from him is Tenarius Wright, who is essentially a large linebacker. Wright will be counted on for pass rush this season. In the middle is a collection of veteran tackles and a newcomer, Robert Thomas, who has coaches very excited. DeQuinta Jones and Alfred Davis are the returning starters, but Thomas figures to unseat one of them. If Jones can ever put together a complete performance, he could be a dominator. Lavunce Askew adds depth, along with Zach Stadther. Chris Smith offers depth at end, but Arkansas needs another player or two to step forward there.

LINEBACKERS (rating: Vg, 2nd SEC West, 4th overall)
Jerry Franklin has always been a solid player, but recently he’s begun to be mentioned in the same breath as Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower. While Franklin lacks Hightower’s height, he is big at 245 pounds and smartly controls the middle. Flanking him is converted safety Jerico Nelson, who is much like former Alabama linebacker Terrence Jones. On the other side – for the moment – is senior Bret Harris, who won the job in the spring. But Harris’ position is vulnerable, and there are several players in the mix for the position. JUCO transfer Alonzo Highsmith Jr. is probably the most likely candidate to snatch the job, although Terrell Williams and Ross Rasner also have a shot. Braylon Mitchell, a freshman, is expected to back up Franklin in the middle. Jarrett Lake provides depth. Arkansas’ backers aren’t as big as the competition, but the speed of Nelson outside makes him a unique challenge.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (rating: Vg, 3rd SEC West, 5th overall)
If there’s a spot on the defense that could become a problem, this is it. There is plenty of experience – top to bottom, this is the most experienced secondary in the league outside of Alabama’s – but some of the players have been liabilities in the recent past and not strengths. Isaac Madison, Darius Winston and De’Anthony Curtis figure to form the primary cornerback rotation along with senior Greg Gatson and Jerry Mitchell, the latter of whom is a big, physical presence. At safety, Elton Ford and Tramain Thomas figure to be the key figures, with Eric Bennett being the top backup at both slots. This group must learn to contain the big play, or it could be the team’s downfall.

SPECIAL TEAMS (rating: Vg, 3rd SEC West, 6th overall)
Placekicker Zach Hocker and punter Dylan Breeding are both coming off strong seasons. Both have strong legs, although Breeding could use some more consistency. The kick return game is in great hands with Joe Adams manning the controls. Dennis Johnson has been a weapon as a kickoff return ace. One of the things Arkansas needs to do is cover kicks and punts better. The Hogs aren’t terrible at it, but could stand to get better if the team intends to make a title run.

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