State of the Hogs: 10 Keys
You can call it the players to watch for 2013. And you'd have to put the quarterback on that list every time. Eyes are always going to be on the trigger man.
But the purposes of this discussion, we've already put Brandon Allen on another list, the Top 10 players on the 2013 team, already published. So we are headed a different direction today.
This Top 10 list contains the players that need come throughs for the 2013 season to be successful. How do we define successful? That might be best left for another day because it deals with maximum potential. We'll just say it's making a bowl game. Most would say that's a good starting point.
The unfortunate part of this top 10 list is that it could be longer, suggesting that a lot of things have to go right and there are so many that can go wrong for the 2013 Razorbacks. That's the reason they are picked anywhere from fifth to seventh in the SEC West.
I'll start my list with the offensive tackles and I do have a definite order. The least experienced is clearly Grady Ollison and he's penciled in as a first time starter after a solid spring. That's not to say David Hurd's play on Allen's blind side at left tackle is less important.
Here's the list of where I think the Hogs need come throughs for 2013:
1. Grady Ollison, sophomore right tackle -- A star defensive end in high school, but most suspected that he was a good candidate to convert to the offensive line when the Hogs also signed four other standout ends in his class. The idea is to get all of them on the field somewhere. Interestingly, only Trey Flowers beat him on the field as a starter. The key for Ollison is to add weight. He weighed just under 280 in the spring, a little light for an SEC tackle. How he develops will be one of the big keys to the season.
2. David Hurd, senior left tackle -- Injured for the last three scrimmages of the spring, he was maybe a little better than advertised last year when he manned the weak tackle position. A former walk-on, he impressed new coach Bret Bielema from the get go. As Bielema said, "He looks like a tackle, walks like a tackle and talks like a tackle." Now let's see if he is an SEC left tackle. If he is, the Hogs may have a chance to go further than some have forecast.
3. Jared Collins or Will Hines, cornerbacks -- I list them together because the Hogs need someone to step up at the corner opposite Tevin Mitchel. Hines started the last half of 2012 with so-so results. Defensive coordinator Chris Ash said he wasn't going at break neck speed to start spring drills and Collins passed him and sits first on the post-spring depth chart. They'll be in a dogfight in August. Corner is not a position of supreme talent. How these two develop is a big key.
4. Daunte Carr, junior middle linebacker -- The fact that Bielema and Ash talk so much about incoming true freshman Brooks Ellis signals that middle linebacker is far from settled. When asked why Carr lined up at mike linebacker after playing safety his first three springs, Ash just said, "Someone had to play there." He improved as the spring progressed and had his best day in the spring game. The 4-3 requires solid play at mike linebacker. This is a key position to watch early in practice.
5. Eric Bennett, senior free safety -- Another former high school quarterback like Rohan Gaines, it was a close race as to whether or not Bennett made the top 10 players list published earlier. He was that good in the spring. But he struggled so much in 2012 that a great 2013 would be viewed as a come through by Bennett. He has ability, as noted by Ash. He should be a good player. If he is and free safety is his spot after a tough 2012 when former DC asked Bennett and Gaines to play right-left (meaning they rotated between free and strong), the Hogs may have something good in the back end of their defense.
6. Braylon Mitchell, junior outside linebacker -- He's been mainly a special teams guy in his first seasons after coaches pointed to him as a promising player during his redshirt year. He lost his father in a trying 2012 season. But he blossomed under new linebackers coach Randy Shannon and was listed as a great effort player by Ash. If he finally reaches projections when he was a blue-chip tailback at Heber Springs, the Hog may have solved one/third of their linebacker problems.
7. Jarrett Lake, senior outside linebacker -- Because he's played a little, he fell below Carr and Mitchell on this list. He has played in nickel situations in the past so he's seen SEC action. But he's never been counted on to carry the load from day one. A former wide receiver in high school who didn't play a lot because of transfer rules in Tulsa, Lake was considered a projection when the Razorbacks were a surprise pick on signing day after an early commitment to Oklahoma. He's got the speed to be an SEC cover linebacker. He was a solid playmaker in the spring and has the potential to step up as a senior.
8. Mitchell Loewen, sophomore tight end -- Maybe the surprise of the early days of the Bielema era, strength coach Ben Herbert noticed him right away and was surprised he was a walk-on. Well, he's not a walk-on any more. The Hawaii native was rewarded with a scholarship at the end of spring after he finished as the top tight end. Nasty and physical at the point of attack, he's perfect to play the smashmouth style Bielema installed. But since he hasn't played, you'd have to put him on this list. Plus, his pass catching skills are suspect just because he hasn't done it. He missed a chunk of spring with an ankle injury, but coaches are excited about his potential.
9. Javontee Herndon, senior wide receiver -- Because he appeared to be Brandon Mitchell's go-to receiver in the spring, I put him on the list. He dropped some passes in the spring, but also caught a lot of bombs from Allen. He's got the speed that Hogs need to stretch the field. He's got plenty of competition for playing time with youngsters like D'Arthur Cowan, Keon Hatcher and Mekale McKay pushing at the three receiver spots, plus the arrival of Drew Morgan, the true freshman from Greenwood. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney mentioned that Morgan will get a quick look because of his playmaking ability, something the Hogs missed last season after Jarius Wright and Joe Adams left. Could Demetrius Wilson or Julian Horton, also listed as starters in a post-spring depth chart, emerge as standouts as seniors? That's key for Allen's development at quarterback.
10. Mitch Smothers and Brey Cook, starting guards -- They go here in tandem because both are learning new spots and must face a challenge from some highly regarded freshmen offensive linemen, most notably Reeve Koehler and Denver Kirkland. (Dan Skipper probably will land at tackle.) Cook played a lot at tackle last year. Smothers was field tested at tackle as a true freshman in 2011 before going down with an injury and losing his spot. Smothers redshirted last year. Both made progress in the spring, but still have room to improve. Will they still be the guards at the end of the season? Are they going to take firm control of the position? Can they be top SEC quality guards? Can they come through for the Hogs in 2013?
There are lots of others that could have taken one of these spots. Can Zach Hocker have a great senior year after slipping in 2012? Who will emerge as the backup quarterback behind Allen? It could be A. J. Derby, or perhaps true freshmen Austin Allen or Damon Mitchell. Do sophomore linebackers Otha Peters or A. J. Turner fight back from spring injuries to jump into the picture for playing time?
What about the depth at defensive line? The top four in the front are outstanding, but the warm days in August and September require depth in the D-line. Can the Hogs get come throughs from Darius Philon, DeMarcus Hodge, Deatrich Wise, JaMichael Winston and Brandon Lewis?
And that doesn't even cover the arrival of blue-chip tailback Alex Collins from Florida. Is he the real deal? Some think he is and that he'll have a big part in the 2013 season.
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