Did you hear Bobby Petrino talk about the youngsters stepping up in bowl practices this week? It might have excited many when they heard the Arkansas coach mention a pair of linebackers first.
Middle linebacker Braylon Mitchell has been the youngster producing the most "wows" from coaches the last two weeks, but Petrino also mentioned another true freshman, outside linebacker Jarrett Lake.
Yeah, that was nice, but not what jumped out at me. I perked up when he talked about redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Mitchell. When Petrino mentions the improvement made by a young quarterback, it's just more confirmation of what I believe is the strength of the Arkansas program right now.
What Petrino does best is develop quarterbacks. It's what separates him from other head coaches around the country and the reason Arkansas should pay him $3.56 million annually.
It's the reason I don't worry if Ryan Mallett goes to the NFL after his junior season. The Hogs are going to have quarterbacks as long as Petrino is the head coach.
It's been what I've promised since he became coach. It's what I see on a daily basis with everything Petrino does, from the way his quarterbacks wear a brace to protect their left knee in practice to every other detail from the day he puts them on his recruiting list.
Petrino praised Mitchell for improved accuracy on third down. That's what he said Mitchell needed to improve after last spring and it's probably the reason he didn't get on the field in some new wrinkles the Hogs added to their offense with The Pistol formation. Until a quarterback can convert third downs in the passing game, he's probably not going to play for Petrino.
Mitchell is going to be a force. Petrino said he's tough, fast and intent on getting better. He went to John L. Smith a few weeks ago to volunteer for kickoff coverage and was on the field against LSU.
Mitchell can outrun mistakes with his feet and cause severe headaches for defensive coordinators with the option, much like Cam Newton did this season for Auburn. But he'll have to pass accurately to create all of those mismatches. If he's ready to do that, look out.
That's not to say Mitchell is ready to beat out Tyler Wilson. The glimpses we had of Wilson against Auburn and Ole Miss hint that Wilson is going to be the next in a long line of great Petrino quarterbacks. But Mitchell's emergence in these bowl practices mean that spring will be interesting. Those two are going to be in a competitive spring environment, what Petrino craves and often creates.
All of that assumes Mallett is playing his last game for the Hogs in the Sugar Bowl. How certain am I of that? Chris Mortensen said Mallett is in most everyone's top 12 list, but admits that it's not a done deal until we hear it out of Mallett's mouth. Obviously, there is a chance Mallett returns for his senior year, but I'm not worried either way.
Petrino is going to have another quarterback ready, maybe two. He's better than everyone else in the SEC at doing that. Does he feel like he has an advantage over everyone else?
"I don't know about what everybody else is doing, but I always try to prepare our quarterback to have success," he said. "Everything we do in practice and everything we do leading up to a game is for him to have success whether that is getting better in the running game so we can utilize our play-action to get him to third and medium and to third and short more -- the way we practice our 7-on-7 to get a ton of reps throughout the week -- the way we practice our blitz pickup.
"A lot of times it comes down to whatever quarterback plays the best -- and I understand that there are a lot of other people on the team that have a lot to do with that. But which quarterback plays the best, that team usually wins the game."
And what about that old coaching adage that defense wins championships? Auburn and Arkansas were the top two teams in the SEC this year.
"It might not have been this year when you look at what Auburn did and they definitely did it with their quarterback and scoring points," Petrino said. "We are not one of the stronger defenses in our conference. It's really about out scoring your opponent one way whether it's offense, defense or special teams or running the ball in the fourth quarter. That's what Auburn did this year."
No, give me the best quarterback and I'll take my chances. Better yet, give me Bobby Petrino and I think the Hogs will have the best quarterback most of the time. And by the same token no one should be surprised to hear that Brandon Mitchell has improved.
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