State of the Hogs: Players Await

The next coach at Arkansas isn't going to have Tyler Wilson and a few other offensive stars, but his 2013 squad will have some good young players with experience.

There is no news on the search for the next football coach at Arkansas. There won't be for several more weeks. There can't be any leaks or any of the top prospects would be in a serious bind.

Jeff Long isn't going to jeopardize that. It's at the root of his process, to keep his top men out of harm's way. It wouldn't be prudent for any agents to toss out their guy's name to get a raise at this point. More damage would be done than good.

So I'm not going there yet because I don't believe there's any serious news to report. I don't even think it's safe to throw out a list of top candidates, although that's what everyone I see wants.

No, I'm going to jump ahead to what the new coach will be left with when he looks at the roster. It isn't all bad even when you subtract Tyler Wilson, Dennis Johnson, Cobi Hamilton and Chris Gragg — those difference makers on offense.

There is talent returning at Arkansas, including as many as 15-18 good players from the last signing class. There is more defensive studs in the 2012 group than in a number of years. I still like those defensive ends, wide receivers and linebackers that were highlighted in this space last February.

But the key will be quarterback and what the new coach likes as far as offensive systems. Will he be a pro-styled guy, or a spread guy? That might give you a head start on who might be the next quarterback, a pro-style operator like Brandon Allen or more of a runner/passer like Brandon Mitchell.

It wasn't a good thing for Allen when the storms came early in the Kentucky game. After a 28-0 first quarter, it hit me that it was going to be a night for Allen to gain some confidence against an inferior secondary. By the time he got in the game, the storms had taken that chance away.

Still, I've seen enough of him in practice to know he's more talented than anyone's seen in a game. He just needs time. He's going to have good receivers to grow with under the new coach.

MeKale McKay, Keon Hatcher, D'Arthur Cowan, Eric Hawkins and Demetrius Wilson — five standouts from the last class — will make it easier on the next quarterback in the spring. Tight end Demetrius Dean is also a nice talent.

"This class of receivers is really a good group," said Paul Petrino, offensive coordinator. "I think you'll see this group do a lot of the things that that group of Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs did. They have that kind of ability."

The losses aside from Wilson are mainly at running back where Dennis Johnson, Knile Davis and Ronnie Wingo are all gone. Yes, Davis can come back, but I don't see that as likely. He's going to get his chance in the NFL based on two years ago, not about the mess tied to this season. The NFL is about pure talent and Davis has that.

Jonathan Williams is also a talent. He's got the wow factor. Those that saw him in August for the scrimmage Johnson missed and Davis and Wingo were held out knew it was only a matter of time until Williams blossomed in a game. He's got the vision of a great back and a burst to go with it. Who thinks Williams will like playing behind fullback Kiero Small next year? Small will return for a fifth year after going down with an injury after the opener.

The offensive line will need to be retooled again with Jason Peacock and Tyler Deacon finishing their eligibility. But there is talent waiting in the wings, developing in the weight room and learning. There is nowhere in football where time to learn is as important as the offensive line.

I am still excited about some of the youngsters in the offensive line. Brey Cook, Chris Stringer and Grady Ollison should turn into fine tackles. I like Cordale Boyd in the newest class. Mitch Smothers and Marcus Danenhauer should develop, too.

Defensively, the main losses are in the front, but that's where the depth is best and perhaps the strength of the 2012 class with four defensive ends that haven't had to be rushed into duty. Deatrich Wise is going to be a great end.

Linebackers A. J. Turner and Otha Peters are true linebackers, something I've not written in awhile. They jumped off the videotape to Paul Haynes after the Kentucky game.

"Those guys weren't always in the right spots, but they showed great instincts and the ability to hit and tackle," Haynes said. "You can't always teach that. They have that. I love their instincts. They are just going to keep getting better."

The secondary has young talent, too, in Rohan Gaines, Tevin Mitchel, Will Hines, Davyon McKinney, Nate Holmes and Kelvin Fisher. Haynes said Fisher continues to improve in his conversion from cornerback to safety.

When there is a new coach, he's going to like a lot of the players he finds at Arkansas. And some of them are going to make big jumps over the next few weeks because of increased playing time.

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