State of the Hogs: Don't Look Back

Bobby Petrino and his players don't mind talking about shooting for a national championship.

It was advertised as a news conference to review the 2010 season, a highly entertaining 10-3 run to the BCS Sugar Bowl.

It was clear that Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino has spent more time thinking about 2011, even to the point to admitting that he hadn't stopped long enough to evaluate what went wrong in New Orleans.

"I will look at it, why such a bad start," Petrino said. "I will evaluate the number of practices and what we did in those practices. I felt we were ready. Obviously, we were not. Certainly, we will evaluate what happened and why."

Petrino did make an overall evaluation of 2010. He called it a "successful" season. He said the defense made "great strides" later in his 30-minute meeting with the media in the Broyles Center.

But mostly, it was talk about expectations for next season. Quarterback Tyler Wilson and defensive end Tenarius Wright also met with the media after Petrino. All three embraced high expectations for 2011.

"High, very high," Wilson said when the "E" word came up. "We will go into every game expecting to win. I see no difference between this year and last year. All of our guys expect to win."

Recruits have commented several times in the last few weeks that players on campus bring up expectations during their on-campus visits. Talk of a national championship are common. It's the goal for this team, just like last year.

"I don't think it's any different," Wright said. "That's the goal of everyone. We want to be in that seat at the end of the year. I think we know that what we are doing now, the offseason workouts, really define it. (Winning a national championship) was very believable going into last year and it's believable now. We have confidence."

Petrino is a believer that goals must be out in the open.

"I learned a long time ago that, you have to verbalize any goals," Petrino said. "So we talk about it. I'm sure that's why (recruits) hear that from our players."

He said it's "obvious" that the verbalized goal is to win the national title. All agreed there is a lot of work to do in the next few weeks and months.

"A national championship is among our goals," Wilson said. "But you have to start taking the baby steps first. Right now, we have to worry about getting ready for spring ball and our winter workouts.

"The focus here is to still work and to still grind. We all have our own goals in that process."

For instance, Wilson said he wanted to take his weight from the 212 that he read from the scales the final week of January to 212 for reporting day in August.

"I'm sure that our strength staff has the things in place to get me there," Wilson said. "The good news is our strength program is that we don't have to worry about the volume any more. We have broken that mental barrier of just trying to survive. We know we are going to keep getting better."

Wilson was asked about his thoughts when he heard starter Ryan Mallett had announced his decision a few weeks ago to turn professional.

"I was excited for him and I sent him a text," Wilson said. "At the same time, I was excited for my opportunity. I knew it probably meant I'd have a shot at being the guy. It brings a serious attitude that every practice is important because of what it might mean."

The key, Petrino said, is the battles that will make for interesting competitions throughout the depth chart. As confident as Petrino is in Wilson's ability to move the team after seeing him step in for Mallett last spring and then against Auburn and Ole Miss, he knows that there is competition at quarterback, too. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Mitchell and redshirt freshman Jacoby Walker, both with a spring behind them, will push Wilson in the spring.

"We'll see how they convert third downs," Petrino said. "That's the difference between high school and college, who can throw it in a tight space. Unlike in high school, the receivers are covered on third down. We'll see how they do in that area."

The coach said those three give the Hogs a different look at quarterback than Mallett, a brilliant thrower but lacking in mobility in the pocket.

"It's going to be fun in the spring to watch the quarterbacks," Petrino said. "Brandon is really looking forward to seeing what he can do and to compete. He got better in the fall and in the bowl practices. He really concentrated on his release and his mechanics. Our quarterbacks are better runners and when protection breaks down can run. They also have the ability to do some things in the zone read (options)."

Would he play two quarterbacks?

"They will determine that," Petrino said. "Tyler will take the first snap in the spring. The good thing, those three competed there last spring (with Mallett injured). I have tremendous confidence in Tyler. I also know the others are good players.

"Tyler has experience and he's played well. I have a lot of confidence in him. He can do things running the football, scrambling and throwing on the move."

Wilson knows he's not going to scare anyone with his running, but he's not a stationary target, either.

"I have the ability to move around in the pocket," he said. "I probably am not going to get a lot of chunk yards, but I can improvise, get out of the pocket and buy some time to find someone down the field. That is one of my strengths."

Petrino bragged on the leadership of the 2010 team. While noting the strength and conditioning staff commented on high motivation early in the offseason program, Petrino said it's too early to speak too much on the 20 seniors-to-be for 2011. He said leadership takes time to emerge. Wilson agreed.

"Leadership is not announced, it's demonstrated," Wilson said.

However, Wright said, "Wilson is one of those guys -- along with the other quarterbacks -- who is giving us leadership. You see him running up and down the field changing the plays with the wide receivers. Tyler takes it serious."

By the same token, Wright knows it's early.

"We are looking to see who provides the answers," he said. "Brandon Mitchell and Jacoby Walker are good players and can lead, too. We don't lack for offense, but we are watching to see who is going to step up."

There is so much depth and talent scattered around the offense, Wilson said his job is simple.

"I don't have to do so much," he said. "I just have to move us down the field by getting the ball to our playmakers. You can see what they can do, their abilities. We have some special players. I don't have to do it by myself."

Petrino said it's still early to know exactly on medical evaluations, but it doesn't look like Greg Childs will participate in the spring. He missed the second half of the season with a torn tendon in his knee. He's still recovering from surgery.

"I haven't spent any time with our trainers or doctors to know everything," Petrino said. "But I don't think Greg will be out there in the spring. He's walking well and running and doing well. He just won't be ready for spring."

Running back Dennis Johnson is set to participate in spring. Johnson had surgery after the season's second game to repair internal injuries.

"I think Dennis is back now," Petrino said. "He's doing everything now."

Defensive tackle Byran Jones will likely sit out spring after corrective surgery for an ankle injury in the week after the bowl game. Jones was unable to play against Ohio State.

"Again, I haven't met with the trainer, but I would anticipate that he would miss the spring," Petrino said. "The ankle had been bothering him the week of the game. The surgery went well."

Defensively, Petrino said the front looks strong heading to 2011 with solid tackles and ends, along with seniors Jerry Franklin and Jerico Nelson at linebacker.

"We will go and work," he said. "We have a lot coming back. We are strong up front with Dede Jones and Zack Stadther inside and Jake Bequette and Tenarius Wright outside. The front should be a strength. I see competition in the secondary.

"We finished the year with Isaac Madison and Darius Winston as our corners and they really play the same position. So we are excited to get to spring and work players there.

"We made great strides on defense. We learned to play together. We played with great effort. We forced turnovers at big points in games. The Mississippi State game comes to mind when we made plays at the right time."

One of the big question marks heading into spring will be at offensive tackle. DeMarcus Love and Ray Dominguez, the starters for almost every game of the Petrino era at Arkansas, both are done.

There wasn't much depth there last season. Grant Freeman was listed as the backup on both sides after Anthony Oden went down with mononucleosis after the second game. Oden is back in school. Brey Cook, a top 50 player nationally, enrolled in school at mid-term. Petrino mentioned all three when he was asked about the prospects at offensive tackle.

"We've got to find a couple of tackles and an offensive guard," Petrino said. "At tackle, we've got Freeman, Oden and Cook."

Freeman played both the weak and strong tackles last season. Where will he start out in the spring?

"He did well at both in games," Petrino said. "Where we put him will probably depend on how the others do and what they can play."

Wilson knows Freeman (6-foot-7, 310 pounds) can handle the assignments at tackle.

"He's a big, big body with talent," Wilson said. "I expect big things from him as we progress through the spring."

Yes, those expectations are big everywhere you look with Arkansas football.

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