State of the Hogs: Keep It Simple

Arkansas tackled better in the Cotton Bowl after one month with Paul Haynes as defensive coordinator. If that trend continues, the Hogs will have a fine 2012 campaign.

Most worry about wide receivers, or play calling or whether or not John L. Smith will gamble too much or not at all. Those could be valid thoughts as the 2012 Arkansas football season approaches.

But I don't think any of that will matter to a great degree when Alabama rolls to town, or when the Hogs go to South Carolina. I think all of that will be fine even when LSU comes to the Ozarks.

No, the issues that will determine the 2012 season are the same as they have been ever since Wilson Matthews explained football to me for the first time. That was in 1972 at a Hall of Fame smoker at the old Camelot Hotel just minutes after I totaled my father's Malibu SS -- when a guy in a stolen car ran a red light.

"Son, it's blocking and tackling," Matthews said, just after offering a shaky 18-year-old his first shot of bourbon. "That's all football has ever been. That's all it will ever be. Teams that can block, score touchdowns. Those who can tackle don't give up touchdowns. That's all it is. Don't ever forget it."

I have never forgotten it. And it relates to the 2012 Hogs, just as always. I learned that night to stay away from bourbon and from those who think it's just play calling.

The Arkansas offensive line appears to be improved and much deeper than the last several seasons. There is talent and experience. And it's usually about experience in the offensive line.

I like Travis Swanson, Alvin Bailey and Jason Peacock for their strength and athletic ability up front on offense. I also think David Hurd and Tyler Deacon are under valued. And there are going to be some surprises from the likes of Luke Charpentier and Mitch Smothers as they battle for playing time.

The problems the Hogs had moving the ball against Alabama and LSU were not quarterback related last season. They were protection issues. Experience up front is what matters most in protection. Having experience back with Knile Davis and Kiero Small in the backfield will help in protection slides, too.

But the real key is tackling on defense. I loved the way the Hogs tackled against a tough running Kansas State offense in the Cotton Bowl. That was what new defensive coordinator Paul Haynes stressed in his first month on campus. It's what he'll stress in August. Tackling will be the key to the 2012 Hogs.

What K-State did well all of last season was exactly the stuff that bothered the last three or four Arkansas defenses. I thought Haynes gobbled that up. That was a gritty, tough bunch of Hogs that were waiting on a tough quarterback. The Hogs hit Collin Klein over and over and put him on the ground.

In the spring, I enjoyed watching both Haynes and his close friend Taver Johnson coach tackling during the early part of practices each day. Both understand how to produce consistent tacklers. They pinpoint fundamental errors and get them fixed.

We heard about tackling last week when Haynes took a few questions at John L. Smith's golf outing. Big plays come from missed tackles -- more than one on the same play. But where his emphasis helps in that regard is that more Razorbacks will get to the ball because he pushes that in practice.

There will be missed tackles. There always are, no matter the level, no matter the players. It happens in the NFL. But what good defenses do is get plenty to the ball so that it isn't thud. It's thud, thud, thud, thud -- so fast you can't tell the thuds apart.

That's also what produces fumbles. It isn't the first hit, it's when there are two hits almost at the same time. A ball carrier can handle the first one. But when they come in fast order, there are turnovers.

I thought the Arkansas secondary tackled better in the spring. I thought the hitting was crisper and the fundamentals better. I thought the secondary was full of sound tacklers.

The other key ingredient on defense is how the coaches are deployed. Haynes has help with the secondary. The last four years one man tried to coach the safeties, cornerbacks and call the defense. That's an impossible task, no matter the man.

I don't think even Wilson Matthews could have done that. And I always thought he could do about anything.

Bobby Allen helped the cornerbacks in the spring after moving over from the defensive tackles. They found the ball quicker. Darius Winston improved. He looked more like a five-star corner than a two star. And that's been his rap the last two seasons.

I also think John L. Smith is going to provide some help for Haynes. They are close and will be able to put their heads together as game plans are produced each week. Smith knows the SEC and will be a huge asset to Haynes.

I think Smith will also be a great help to Steve Caldwell in special teams preparations. That will be a good mesh, too.

The special teams should be full of better tacklers. It's going to be the safeties, corners and linebackers who have been trained by Haynes filling most of the cover teams.

It will be the key to the season. I think tackling is going to be better. If it is, don't put a cap on the number of wins this Arkansas team can produce. The offense is going to be plenty good enough.

Just remember as you watch, it's still about blocking and tackling, just like Wilson Matthews told me in 1972.

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