State of the Hogs: Jet Fuel

The 2011 Arkansas football team has reported. Excitement might be at an all-time high. Don't expect Bobby Petrino to back off the gas and don't look for any caution flags here.

I've been accused of throwing jet fuel on the raging fire of excitement that has consumed Arkansas football over the last 12 months. Expectations in year four of the Bobby Petrino era are red hot.

But I have a defense. If Petrino doesn't want to temper expectations, why should anyone when there doesn't appear to be any limits on the potential of the 2011 squad?

There are reasons to raise the caution flag. Definitely, Tyler Wilson is not as experienced as Ryan Mallett. The offensive tackles, although talented, have almost no experience.

And then there is the schedule, again one of the nation's toughest. Playing in the SEC West is the ultimate challenge in college football and the Hogs will play at Alabama and LSU to start and end the conference slate.

Those may be as talented as any two teams in the country.

But I love this Arkansas team. Love it. It has been carefully constructed in the fashion that Petrino promised when he arrived. There have been no surprises, just attention to detail and the process.

I'm high on Wilson and know that Brandon Mitchell and Brandon Allen have immense talent, too. This is a coaching staff that knows how to develop quarterbacks. I just don't spend much time fretting about quarterback play since Petrino arrived. Give Garrick McGee credit, too. He can tutor signal callers. He's been trained by Petrino as a player and coach.

I chuckled last week when someone asked if it was really wise to keep signing wide receivers. There are eight good ones on the current roster below the senior class. Won't there be enough with the four that are currently committed?

Bring them on. I think Petrino has it figured out. He's always going to take talented playmakers and they are always going to be drawn to him.

There is going to come a time when talented playmakers -- Petrino calls them elite athletes -- head to the NFL after just three years. Your stockpiles can evaporate quickly by injury, too.

Do you remember the season that turned bad in dramatic fashion when Marcus Monk went down to a knee injury in the first August scrimmage? Do you remember what it's like to be without a great wide receiver?

I remember. I also heard Joe Adams explain what it's like to always see a deep safety. He said there were only a few plays last year when he saw safeties cheating to stop the run. D. J. Williams said, "No one does that to us and gets away with it." I believe that. They love blitzes.

Typically, Petrino teams punish blitzes.

That's what this system is all about. Defensive coordinators fear playing Petrino. I heard South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson complain about what it was like to look at a system that had five receivers (counting running backs) that were threats at all time. How do you play the pass and the run at the same time against the Hogs?

Well, you can do it. But you need great defensive linemen. That's what I like about this Arkansas team. This is the most defensive line talent I've seen in the Ozarks since the Hogs came to the SEC in 1992.

I wondered if there were any tricks to what the Hogs did last winter when five defensive ends were in the signing class. Would they all make it to school? Was it too good to be true?

Nope, just what I had hoped would happen when Petrino scooped up Steve Caldwell as the defensive ends coach. Caldwell earned his reputation by signing fast, quick, long ends at Tennessee. Many went on to the NFL, after wreaking havoc with SEC quarterbacks. Caldwell and Petrino's staff signed these five new defensive ends from five different states. That's wonderful recruiting.

Petrino told us his defensive philosophy when he was introduced as coach. Hit the quarterback. He's got the defensive ends to do it now.

Then there's the defensive tackles, my favorite group on the 2011 roster. Robert Thomas isn't one of the 14 Razorbacks on the All-SEC coaches preseason. But he may be the one to watch the closest when the games begin. He has rare talent and is a perfect fit in a league of great defensive linemen.

Sorry if someone wanted a little caution as practices begin this week. I don't see it and I don't think we'll hear much from this head coach.

It's not his style. He preaches showtime. Let it begin.

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