State of the Hogs: Rookie Help

Since the days of reduced scholarships, rarely is there a time when freshmen aren't needed. But Arkansas is in good shape for 2012, maybe the best shape in several years. Still, there are some fine players in the new class who might help early.

Summer workouts will determine how many newcomers are ready to play. There's always a surprise when players arrive. So some of this is just a guess.

But the question was asked earlier this week as to who and how many of the newcomers might be on the field this fall. Here's a crack at that question.

First, it's always about need. Where does this Arkansas football team need help as far as depth or a talent infusion.

The Hogs could go to battle in the SEC with what is on the two deep at the end of spring drills, assuming that Alonzo Highsmith recovers from surgery to repair a torn pectoral tendon.

But that's still where I'd start in looking at the newcomers, both inside and outside linebacker. Can any of the newcomers help in that regard?

The one that comes to mind first is Otha Peters, an inside linebacker from Covington, La. He was a late commit and probably the result of Taver Johnson's hire as inside linebacker coach. He's a standout recruiter and went after Peters with passion. He got his man in the end, pulling him away from a Tennessee commitment.

Why is Peters able to play early? Physically, he's gifted. He's also very strong, a regular in the weight room. He's listed at 6-1 and 223, but he was around 230 by the time he took visits last winter. He's SEC strong already and a candidate to help at linebacker the day he steps on campus.

I'd also mention Vin Ascolese as possible help at outside linebacker. He played for a legend at North Bergen, N.J., his grandfather. He knows how to play defense from all of those years around a great high school coach. He's got the speed for the position.

Wide receiver also is a position that could use a boost as far as depth. This is the class to provide it with five newcomers at that position. At least one of the running backs is also a candidate to transition to wide receiver, but that probably won't be needed at this point.

Junior college transfer Demetrius Wilson was targeted as a ready for playing time. He was the most skillful of the route runners considered from the JC ranks. He's also a fine return specialist and there could be a need there because of Marquel Wade's off-the-field problems.

Keon Hatcher also would be a candidate for early playing time at wide receiver. The Owasso, Okla., product is a freak in the weight room. He's strong and tough. The drawback with freshmen wide receivers in general is lack of leg strength and the ability to wade through press coverage. Hatcher should be able to handle that because of his strength.

Generally, no one tries to push newcomers into the fray in the trenches. But junior college transfer Austin Flynn came to school with the strength and ability to help at defensive end. He had a broken hand that slowed him a bit in the spring. That will be fully healed this summer. He'll be in the two deep and in the rotation.

Flynn is a lot like Highsmith, a junior college transfer who started all of last season and was voted team captain by his teammates last week. Flynn has great leadership qualities and is well liked by teammates. Highsmith's election as captain would make him the first JC transfer to captain the Hogs since Ike Forte in the 1975.

The other place the Hogs would still like to add to the depth is at cornerback, although that position looked better in the spring than in several years. There are three -- Ray Buchanan, Jared Collins and Will Hines -- in the new class with solid ability. They could be candidates to help in special teams because of their speed.

The most talented group in the new class is at defensive end. I fell in love with this group late in the recruiting process as stories on them began to become legend. Deatrich Wise, Jamichael Winston, Jeremy Sprinkle, Taiwan Johnson, Brandon Lewis and Darius Philon all have the ability to play in the SEC at defensive end and some might end up at other positions.

Sprinkle is a tight end candidate. He has freakish athletic ability. He played shortstop on his high school team and runs well for his size, a long, 6-5, 220.

Lewis will have one distinction as soon as he arrives on campus. He will beat Trey Flowers as the player with the longest wingspan. His is 7-2, two inches wider than Flowers. Flowers said they compared arms when Lewis visited and he conceded that Lewis is the king of wing.

I'm most fascinated by linebacker A.J. Turner. He's split his time between basketball and football at East Poinsett County High the last six years. He's going to be a fine SEC linebacker, but needs time in the weight room. He was just under 210 when he finished the state title run for the Warriors last basketball season. He wanted one week to rest his body, then promised he'd be in the weight room daily.

I'd like to see Turner's body in August before I rule him out for some kind of role, possibly in special teams. He has the eye for the ball -- in basketball or football. In big games of either sport, he was likely to get you 20 -- rebounds or tackles.

No doubt, Turner is like most prep stars. He needs time in the UA weight room and regular meals. He's going to get that this summer in the Ozarks.

Don't rule him out and don't count out any of the other standouts in this class. But the good news is that no one has to count on them just yet.

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