Petrino touched on his team's two practices this week, his new defensive coordinator, some position changes and opportunities for this year's back-ups, his thoughts on playing in Arlington with Texas A&M coming into the SEC and how proud he was of the Razorbacks that graduated on Saturday.
"Practice is going well," Petrino said. "Our guys have a lot of energy, focus has been good, they've been physical. We have had two good physical practices. We will give them tomorrow off from the practice field and then will come back three hard days next week before we send them home for Christmas. We're encouraged from what we have seen."
The Razorbacks took their finals this week with a trio – De'Anthony Curtis, Broderick Green and Grant Cook – graduating on Saturday.
"And then the other thing I am impressed with is the guys that have come back that have played here before that have graduate today," Petrino added. "I think we have four or five others that are doing that today. That is what it is all about – being a student-athlete and getting your degree."
Curtis, Green and Cook chose to practice instead of walk on stage and get their diplomas.
"They didn't walk on stage," Petrino said. "They certainly could have, but chose not to. I don't know if they come back later and do it next summer or May or whatever. They chose not to do it today. So they were working hard, up early in the meetings and practicing hard."
Arkansas' practices Friday and Saturday were the first time for Petrino to see new defensive coordinator Paul Haynes in action since he arrived from Ohio State.
"I like what I see," Petrino said. "He's very aggressive and does a great job of teaching. We have had a lot more individual (work) in the past couple of days, mainly to just get back in the flow of football. So you can see his ability to teach the players in the drill work that we do. Then he does a great job running the drill work defense that we do. I've been impressed."
The Razorbacks are also working on special teams some with defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell now the special teams coordinator.
"We worked punt yesterday and then kickoff today," Petrino said. "We kept Coach Caldwell off the road last week so he could work on the game plan. I like our plan. I like the way we have executed it so far."
Arkansas had five returns for touchdowns this season.
"It is nice that we are not doing a lot of things differently," Petrino said. "That's the number one thing is that we just need to improve on what we have done and get better in getting those guys some room on both punt return and kickoff return because they can make plays."
Since the Cotton Bowl game against Kansas State isn't until Jan. 6, it is not yet time for game week type preparation.
"We will work some against Kansas State," Petrino said. "Certainly work on some of the things we have to do to beat them. But we will continue to work against each other because we have so much more time.
"Normally we would and then you would just go meet at the bowl site and go through it again," Petrino said. "But we have more time. We'll come back from Christmas on the 26th then we will have a normal preparation week after we get back. Then load up and go to Dallas and do it all over again."
Petrino complimented the work of freshman quarterback Brandon Allen, who redshirted this season.
"He is really exciting," Petrino said. "His quick release, his accuracy. He is really, really intelligent so he picks things up quick. Obviously he has to get his feet in better position in time and his shoulder in the correct position at time…It is fun to have him out there and see what he can do."
In other news, Petrino confirmed that quarterback Jacoby Walker had been given his release and was transferring to UCA.
"Jacoby came in about three weeks ago and ask for permission to look around and see if there was interest from other schools that he could go play at," Petrino said. "Either yesterday - or the day before - we gave him a release to go to another school here in Arkansas."
He also noted that true freshman Brett Weir was now a tight end, wideout Kane Whitehurst was now working in the secondary and that Andrew Peterson was still at tight end.
"He (Peterson) is playing tight end," Petrino said. "He's a big guy. He could maybe grow into a tackle. Don't tell him I said that."
"We are working Weir a little bit as a tight end - he's a guy we brought in a linebacker/safety/ tight end," Petrino added. "I've been impressed with the way he can run and catch the ball. It looks like he can snap his hips. He just keeps getting bigger so that could possibly be a spot for him."
Kelvin Fisher is playing both tailback and cornerback and a decision will be made in the spring about a permanent start for him.
"We continue to work Kelvin on both sides," Petrino said. "With the vets, he practices at DB. When we practice with the young guys, he goes at running back. He looks really good at both. That is going to be a decision we have to make before spring ball. I want to give him a chance to compete to play because I think he is a special football player.
"We also have been working Whitehurst on defense just to see his movement - backpedal and break," Petrino added.
He also said he believes that sophomre junior college transfer Robert Atiga – who was tried at both linebacker and defensive end this season – had a chance to start at middle linebacker.
Petrino definitely would like to fill departing Jerry Franklin's mike linebacker spot with Atiga or another player and not have to move outside linebacker Alonzo Highsmith to the middle.
"I was really impressed with how he (Highsmith) came in and picked up the system so fast, was very, very productive so fast, had very few mistakes and he had the speed and ability to make up for it," Petrino said. "I thought he had a really nice year for us. I am not sure you could ask anything more from a junior college player. He was not in spring ball, came in during the summer and started every game for us."
Atiga was also a junior college transfer, but got to campus late. He has impressed Petrino in bowl practice.
"I like what I have seen from him," Petrino said. "He got here real late and obviously didn't have as much time to prepare. We kind of looked at him as two positions (linebacker and defensive end). We are going to give him a good shot at the Mike Linebacker. These bowl practices are really important for him as well as spring ball."
Petrino notes he likes what he sees out of his program.
"We got in a position to where we tried to win the championship (this season)," Petrino said. "We did that, but we haven't been able to knock the door down yet. I do like the way we are building the program, I am excited by these young players that are in the program now and how they are practicing. We feel like we are right there and we have just got to find a way to get over the hump."
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Petrino was also asked about whether he wanted to continue to have a marquee game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington if the Southwest Classic series with Texas A&M goes to a home-and-home one now that the Aggies are joining the SEC.
Earlier this week, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long tweeted that he was still looking for a 12th game and that the new 14-team SEC schedule would be out by Christmas.
"I know that Jeff's got a lot of challenges in the scheduling right now with what has went on with the changes of the leagues and adding A&M," Petrino said. "I think we are still trying to work something out to play A&M there every year. That is what we would like to do and that is what the contract says we are going to do.
"But I know they don't really want to play us in Dallas so I don't know how that is going to work out," Petrino added. "But certainly we would love to play a game there every year.
"We are involved in it," Petrino added when asked if he had any input into scheduling. "With the challenges we have...because of the commitment to Dallas, you can't go out and play a home-and-home.
"You have five games in Fayetteville, two in Little Rock and one in Dallas," Petrino said. "You can't go out and schedule a home-and-home, which is what I would like to do. If we keep the A&M game in Dallas and fulfill the contract, then that gives us the flexibility to go out and do a home-and-home with people.
"Nobody wants to just come play you here," Petrino continued. "If they are going go come here, they want you to make the return trip there. If we were able to keep the A&M game in Dallas, that would be able to give us the flexibility to go out and play another great opponent - one time here and the next year at their place."