There have been questions -- and rightly so -- about how the Arkansas football team will differ under John L. Smith? What will he do different than Bobby Petrino? What changes are in the works?
Smith said there won't be many changes, but he will spend more time on defense than his predecessor. And, it's doubtful he will put practice constraints on Paul Haynes, the new defensive coordinator.
Here are some thoughts about what might happen with the 2012 season with a look back to last season under Petrino.
First, Arkansas won last year. The Hogs went 11-2, best since 1977.
But they didn't always play well. In fact, there were many times that many fans were upset because the team didn't play up to potential, so to speak.
There were times that the Hogs looked good, but left a great many points on the field, perhaps because the players were so uptight it was hard for them to play.
And they also barely won games last year because of perceived flat play. Slow starts were typical of the 2011 team. Why? Were they not responding to the head coach before the game, during practice that week? Or why?
We'll see if a different approach from the head coach that perhaps allows for better focus in preparation for games that should not be close, like Ole Miss last year.
But here is the major difference that I think can happen with a new approach at head coach and that's a defensive coordinator who is allowed to run his stuff both in practice and in games.
In practice? More often than not, the UA practices were scripted by the head coach for the defense to be where he wanted it in order to prepare the quarterback. That's a good thing for the quarterback and I understood it some of the time, but there were also some of the times that the defense needed to be running stuff it needed to perfect for that opponent.
Bobby Petrino was like Lou Holtz in his detail and organization and ability to beat people up verbally to push them to the edge ... where he often wanted them. But they were far different in practice management as far as time.
Lou turned the defense over to Monte Kiffin. He let Monte prepare the defense as he saw fit. Often they were on different practice fields and the head coach didn't even see defense.
And while Holtz did scrimmage against the ones at times, it wasn't often during the season. Mostly, the defense worked against a scout offense and the offense worked against a scout defense. They didn't combine so much for long stretches and then have a defense that had calls scripted by the head coach/offensive coordinator.
For those that understood football, many thought that it was a severe handicap for the defense. John Cooper, former Ohio State coach, went so far as to tell me that Arkansas would always struggle to put a good defense on the field with Bobby Petrino because of the constraints placed on the defense because of practice situations.
Cooper just didn't think Petrino was mindful of what needed to be done to help defense because he was too busy trying to make sure the offense was situated right because of what he wanted for the quarterbacks.
Now I will add that you can go too far the other way, too. You can spend your time getting your defense ready with the way practice is set up -- the way you construct the schedule and how you organize the scripts for the day's plays.
What I'm saying is that often in practice the plays for offense were scripted for the defensive calls. I would get tickled when Petrino chastised a defensive player for knowing the play and jumping a route instead of playing base technique.
When you get in games, a defender will suspect a play and jump a route. We saw that at Vanderbilt last year. Or he would get upset with a defensive back baited a route to jump it, or a player realized the play and broke into an area that maybe wasn't his zone because he knew the play was coming. That's what defenders do.
So I'm interested to see what comes of all of this. It is going to be interesting. There is a lot to it. Anytime there is a change at the head coaching level, things are different.
There will be some things that are different in a good way and some that maybe aren't so good. But rarely do you see a situation like this, where the assistants stay the same with a veteran group of players that are playing well. And rarely (if ever) do you see the interim coach, or whatever you want to call John L, who knows the style, system, coaches and structure and is willing to keep it the same.
Normally, when you see something like this happen, it's because the team is not winning, or there is not enough talent. So how this rolls is going to be interesting.
The other thing that is going to be interesting is the quarterback play as far as Tyler Wilson. This is a fifth-year senior quarterback with a year of starting experience in the SEC.
Wilson is getting a new approach from Paul Petrino. He is much more of an encourager in the way he is working with the QB and so is John L. Smith, than what he had last year with Garrick McGee and Bobby Petrino. I think I saw Tyler blossom with Bobby Petrino out of the picture last spring. There seemed to be a different, more confident Tyler than the one that was constantly getting beat up by the last head coach. We all saw that. That didn't happen this spring and Tyler rarely made a mistake.
Some will argue that Tyler was prepared for what came because of all of that. I'm sure that is partly right. But some players don't respond to that kind of coaching and do better under a different style of teaching. It didn't appear that Bobby did that very often.
But we shall see. It's going to be interesting to watch develop.
I can assure you that John L. Smith will spend lots of time with the defense this summer (coaches, etc.) and with them in camp. More than Bobby Petrino would have. So that's a major difference. He knows that is where this team can make the most growth and he is confident in this offensive staff to handle that side of the ball.
Smith works well with Paul Haynes and I would expect that to be a dynamic tandem in constructing the plan for practice and games. Again, that's going to be be different than it has been the last four years and interesting to watch.
How Will Paul Petrino call games as opposed to Bobby Petrino's stuff? That is something that has to play out, but it looked remarkably similar in the spring. Wilson said there are some differences, but perhaps too subtle for most to recognize.
Wilson thought one thing Paul Petrino did was take advantage of the things that Wilson did best. That doesn't mean there were new things in the offense, just more of a hook-up between player and coach with the play calls.
But the major difference that will take place between last year and 2012 will be in the way Wilson can make checks at the line of scrimmage. He did that more in the bowl game, after one month with Paul Petrino. And he did that more in the spring. The run game checks will be critical for getting Knile Davis more involved.
There were going to be changes in the 2012 operation as far as scheme anyway, to take advantage of Davis with a proven fullback and more tight ends. There would be fewer four and five receiver sets, as noted by Bobby Petrino during the winter Razorback Club circuit. So if and when fans recognize those tendencies, know that they were coming anyway and the change in head coaches didn't have anything to do with that.
I think you'll see an offense that operates much the same as in the past, but with more options in the running game because of improved line play and more fullback/tight ends on the field.
One thing is certain, it's going to be an interesting summer with lots of debate on what this team will look like without Bobby Petrino and with John L. Smith as the head coach.
The questions are going to continue to come forward. Most can't be truly answered until the games are played. As Paul Petrino says -- and he got that from Bobby and he got it from John L. -- the game video will be the resume.
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