If Bobby Petrino can turn around Arkansas football in just three years, I don't know why anyone is worried about the future. He will probably lose Ryan Mallett along with three senior starters in the offensive line. But the stone that is Razorback football is rolling downhill now, baby.
And it's getting bigger with every turn.
I can only imagine the response Petrino has gotten in homes in the past week since he's hit the recruiting trail following a 31-23 victory over LSU. The talent is just beginning to find the Ozarks.
And what has Petrino done with limited star power in the last three years? He's won despite key injuries this season. The Hogs kicked tail in the fourth quarter of the Ole Miss game despite not having Ryan Mallett, Greg Childs, Joe Adams and Dennis Johnson.
Speaking of Johnson, he's recovering nicely from internal surgery after an injury in the season's second week. He'll give Knile Davis some help at running back next season and add a boost as the kickoff returner. He's the UA record holder in kick returns.
Mallett is good. He can do some things no one else in the country can. He's got the strongest arm in UA history. He can fit the ball in a tight space.
Anyone remember Tyler Wilson from the second and third quarter against Auburn? He's showtime, too. And that's what Petrino calls his program.
Wilson wasn't as good as the Hogs needed in the fourth quarter against Auburn. His two interceptions ended comeback hopes. But what he learned against Auburn is going to help Wilson and his teammates roll towards next season.
Wilson does some things better than Mallett. He's much better on the move than Mallett. He's as good at throwing the soft deep ball as Mallett. He throws a wonderful fade, too. His vision in the passing game is out of this world. He's got some Tony Romo in him, that knack of wiggling forward in the seams of the pocket and delivering a touch pass.
Does anyone think Arkansas is going to lack for quarterback play as long as Petrino is in the Ozarks? I don't. Look at his record. Quarterbacks find Petrino. And when they do, he churns out great ones. Wilson is going to get better and better.
For that matter, Brandon Mitchell and Jacoby Walker will do fine, too, when it's there turn. It might be in certain situations next year. I have visions of a two QB system with Wilson getting help from one of the others in the Pistol formation. Did anyone watch Nevada against Boise State. That's what O-line coach Chris Klenakis has ready to install, when Petrino is ready and Mitchell and Walker are ready.
The offensive line looks to be a tougher issue, unless you look closely. The Hogs lose both starting tackles, both of them good players. They also lose Wade Grayson at weak guard. I am not concerned about any of that. The Hogs are already good at two of those spots.
Grant Freeman can play either weak or strong tackle. He's listed as the backup on both sides and has played well when his number has been called the last two seasons. He's ready for a great senior year.
Grant Cook is ready to step in at one of the guard spots. He's taken turns with strongside guard Alvin Bailey this year. That was Cook, No. 72, knocking LSU tackles around in the fourth quarter in the season ender. He's played close to half of the snaps this year.
There are good ones waiting in the wings. Luke Charpentier, Cam Feldt and Colby Berna are coming off solid years in the weight room and will give Klenakis some young talent. Walk-on Tyler Deacon, junior squadman, also can hold his own at tackle. Klenakis has given Deacon praise several times this year for his work in practice.
Then there is Brey Cook, just finished with two great seasons at Springdale Har-ber. He's the best tackle prospect to come out of Arkansas prep ranks since Shawn Andrews. The 6-7, 300-pounder is just what Klenakis wants -- nasty, strong and athletic. The great news here is that Cook will graduate from high school in a couple of weeks. He'll be at Arkansas for the winter and spring programs.
Andrews is the last true freshman to start in the offensive line at Arkansas. Cook may not start, but he's going to compete as a young player, maybe next year.
The interior of the offensive line is going to be superb. Travis Swanson, who played well as a redshirt freshman, will anchor the front for three more seasons. A team that doesn't have to look for a center is way ahead of the game. Alvin Bailey and Grant Cook will continue to mesh well with Swanson. This will be one of the SEC's best middles. Petrino loves to pull the inside guys and they'll wipe out linebackers the way they did the second half of the season.
Just remember, Klenakis is just getting started. You'll like everything you see as he gets another year to teach his techniques and fundamentals.
The Hogs will close ranks everywhere else where they lose seniors. They may lose a couple of juniors besides Mallett. Jake Bequette and Joe Adams are the two that come to mind first. I thought Greg Childs would leave early, but he's not going to be ready for the draft after hurting a knee that required surgery late in the year.
D. J. Williams is the best senior among the standouts at the skill spots. The tight end is a true All-SEC first team player. He's turned into a top NFL prospect both as a receiver and a blocker. His work besides Dominguez and Love as a perimeter blocker for Davis is out of sight. The Hogs also lose Ben Cleveland at tight end, but that's a deep position and it's going to get deeper.
The Hogs have a great one committed in Chris Barnett, a four-star recruit at 6-6, 250. He's bigger and just as fast as Williams. The good news is that he can develop at his own pace. Chris Gragg, Austin Tate and Garrett Uekman are solid underclassmen. Uekman spent the fall in the redshirt program, drawing rave reviews for his work and his strength.
There is plenty of depth at wide receiver and the Hogs didn't have to rely on some talented freshmen. There is more help on the way in the next class, too. Does anyone think Petrino is ever going to lack for wide receivers? I don't. He'll always have quarterbacks and wideouts ready to play.
The seniors on defense will be missed, but the Hogs are going to be more talented in the future than they were this year. Anthony Leon, Rudell Crim, Damario Ambrose and Ramon Broadway bought the Hogs some time while some more talented youngsters matured in the weight room and learned as backups. There are some standout juco transfers on the way, too.
The key is to keep plugging better talent at cornerback. Darius Winston turned the corner late in the season. It could be that Eric Bennett did, too. There are bigger, faster corners in the next class. Coordinator Willy Robinson will get them ready, too.
The Hogs should be better at linebacker next year. Jerry Franklin, Jerico Nelson, Terrell Williams, Bret Harris (finally healthy) and redshirt freshman Braylon Mitchell will make this an improved area from the start of this season.
And the best news is the Hogs are finally solid in the interior of the line. DeQuinta Jones, Byran Jones, Zack Stadther, Alfred Davis and Lavunce Askew will make this one of the strengths of the team. I like a team that starts with solid play at defensive tackle. Good things will happen with this group, especially with another year in Jason Veltkamp's weight program.
Defensive end will be solid, too. Bequette may return, but if he doesn't there is Tenarius Wright, Colton Miles-Nash, Chris Smith and possibly Jeremiah Jackson.
I like the future at safety with Tramain Thomas, Elton Ford, Alan Turner, Darrell Smith and Daunte Carr.
The kicking game will continue to improve. Zach Hocker and Dylan Breeding are extremely talented.
Yep, we are rolling downhill now. It's Showtime.
State of the Hogs: Showtime
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