State of the Hogs: Defensive Questions

Bobby Petrino still has plenty of offensive weapons. The real questions loom on defense where Tenarius Wright is getting a look at inside linebacker. Two days of watching spring practice tell me the wideouts are going to be solid.

There's been two days of spring football practice at Arkansas. I'm not worried about losing Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Joe Adams.

I'm more concerned about the lakes filling up after two days of rain than who is going to play wide receiver on the Arkansas football team. As sure as there is going to be high water on our tailwater trout streams over the next few months, the Razorbacks are going to score points.

With football off for spring break, this might have been a good weekend for a fishing trip. Never mind. That's gone, not the talent on the current depth chart at wide receiver. These aren't babies, either.

Cobi Hamilton, Julian Horton, Javontee Herndon, Marquel Wade, Maudrecus Humphrey and Keante Minor have some experience and are plenty good enough. "This is our third year for a lot of us," Horton said. "We've been around. We know the system. It's our time."

Watching Tyler Wilson throw to this bunch of wide receivers through two days of practice is all I need to know things look exactly the same as the last few springs when Adams, Wright and Childs were the primary targets.

The Hogs can still throw and catch. And they are going to look better when the running game as added to what they did the first two days. That's still to come when pads are added next week.

It may not look like last year when the Hogs were often in formations with four and five wide receivers. Seldom were they in two-back sets or with two tight ends. That may be the base formation in 2012.

Chris Gragg, Austin Tate and Demetrius Dean are so good at tight end that the Hogs might not need to use three, four and five wide as much.

With Knile Davis and Kiero Small as an effective two-back set and those good looking tight ends, Petrino might get his mismatches without using so many wide receivers. There are some nice personnel groups with this collection of players.

No, the questions are still more on the defensive side than on offense. But there are some interesting twists in the defensive front as some young, talented defensive ends come of age. Is there enough for Tenarius Wright to become an inside linebacker?

I'm not sure, but spring is a good time to find out. It is a dicey proposition. It's risky to take your best defensive player and move him somewhere else. He might not be your best player anymore.

The big key is that you don't want talented defensive ends on the bench. With the arrival of juco transfer Austin Flynn and the maturation of Chris Smith, Trey Flowers and Colton Miles-Nash, it may be doable. And there are talented defensive ends on the way in the next class.

There are other defensive concerns. Alonzo Highsmith is out with an injury and won't be there to provide leadership on the field. That's where Wright has stepped in for the moment. Braylon Mitchell and Tyler Gilbert have taken turns with the ones at the other inside linebacker slot.

Safety seems thin. Eric Bennett is experienced and is the top player at the two spots. Ross Rasner is moving from hybrid linebacker to the other safety. But who can handle it behind them? Alan Turner and Jerry Mitchell might be better tacklers than cover men, but we haven't seen live tackling yet to make that claim.



There seem to be good numbers at cornerback with Davyon McKinney and Kelvin Fisher added to the mix as backups. Darius Winston and Tevin Mitchel are the starters there, although both gave up plays the first two days. Both McKinney and Fisher have better ball skills than the Hogs have shown at that position in several seasons.

McKinney made a fabulous play on a deep pass against Hamilton on the second day of practice. McKinney, at 6-3 by 190, is the big cornerback that can make a difference against the SEC's long wide receivers. That he's on defense and not in the battle for playing time at wide receiver speaks to the depth on the offensive side of the ball.

McKinney reminded a reporter that no football had really been played this spring after that big-time interception Thursday. They weren't wearing pads and there was no tackling in those first two days. He said he went for the chance to play defense last August because "you don't get to hit at wide receiver."

There had been talk that cornerbacks and safeties would just play right and left in the spring, and not strong, free, boundary or field. McKinney left no doubt that he thinks of himself as a boundary corner.

"I was at field corner last fall," McKinney said. "I am at boundary now. That's where I want to be. That's where the hitting happens. I want to hit." McKinney likes the action at cornerback for another reason.

"I looked at the lines at receiver last August," he said. "Pretty long. It looked like I might get on the field faster at corner."

There's the confirmation from a player's perspective. The Hogs are still just fine at wide receiver.

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