State of the Hogs: Leadership

When the players sound like their coach, you know that Bobby Petrino has things rolling in the right direction. He's got plenty of veterans to lead the 2011 squad.

Bobby Petrino visited with the collective SEC media via teleconference Wednesday. One of the questions dealt with progress from when he first arrived four years ago.

"We flipped on some video from our first year here and we're obviously a much better football team," the Arkansas football coach said. "It's good that our players and our coaches understand how we're going to work. The standards have been set on what we expect in practice, what we expect for our preparation. And that allows you to go out there and get better every day."

I flipped back to some of the things Petrino said after his first spring. When he was asked about leadership, he said players first had to learn to follow the coaches. When they learned what the coaches wanted, perhaps then they could become leaders.

Now, with close to 20 seniors on the 2011 roster, it's a different discussion. They've been through four Petrino springs. They start to sound like Petrino. I've heard Jake Bequette and others respond this spring to questions about the goal of winning a national title. They sound just like their head coach.

"You shouldn't be scared to say we can win a national championship," Bequette said. "You embrace expectations and seek them. You talk about them."

These players know their coach. And they aren't scared of him when he gives them the business in practice. They listen to the coaching points not the tone. They are stepping forward to lead their teammates. Petrino sees leadership.

"I just think overall, Jake Bequette and Jerry Franklin continue to show up (as leaders)," Petrino said. "I thought Tramain Thomas did a real nice job for us defensively, stepping up and helping the young guys back there and playing faster and playing the ball in the air better. He really helped us in the maturity of our defensive backs. Jerico Nelson does a great job of leading by example and playing with such a great effort that it's contagious and helps our football team.

"Offensively, on the offensive line I was really impressed with Alvin Bailey. He showed his competitive spirit. He showed that he's able to stand up and help the guys around him and encourage them. I think that's where he did such a good job, he was a great encourager for everybody."

The last aspect of the leadership equation still has to fall into place. Quarterbacks Tyler Wilson and Brandon Mitchell are fighting to become the team's key leader. That's always going to be reserved for the quarterback. Petrino and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee both mentioned that Wilson and Mitchell will be watched this summer to see who takes the reigns. There's so much a quarterback has to do as the "coach" of the summer workouts.

Petrino has been careful not to declare a winner in the quarterback competition. He's probably having fun watching a true battle. Did one of them step up as a leader this spring?

"I think they still have a ways to go," Petrino said. "I think some of it this spring was them really focusing and concentrating on doing their own job, and working every day to get better. They do need to understand, and I think it will take care of itself once the competition's over with and we decide who the guy's going to be, that another part of the job is to help the guys around them be better football players.

"But they both have leadership qualities, but they have a ways to go to get to do their job well, so they can lead by example first."

The good news is that the quarterbacks understand what the coaches want. That's going to help them become leaders. It's got to be exciting. They've got a talented, experienced cast to lead. That's why no one should be scared of the national championship talk.

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