State of the Hogs: Speed Kills

There's the big and little at wide receiver in the Class of 2014 and just plain big in the offensive line. But everywhere you look in Bret Bielema's new class there is speed to kill. It's exactly what the doctor ordered for the Razorbacks.

Speed kills. And it's the top commodity in the SEC. Did you see Percy Harvin run back the second-half kickoff in the Super Bowl? That was raw SEC speed.

Bret Bielema needed speed on national signing day Wednesday. He got it at wide receiver – along with some size – at linebacker, safety and cornerback. And, just for good measure, Sam Pittman gave the Hogs the beef, too.

It's not a class that is going to change the national perception (or in Razorback Nation) about the recruiting ability of Bielema. The Hogs were ranked 11th in the SEC by, but it's the best they've done since that service was launched in 2002 with an average star value of 3.02.

Bielema didn't seem to care about the stars, only that he likes his evaluations and the needs filled. He reminded that stars don't matter in the NFL, or they didn't in this year's Super Bowl. He had the star numbers to back his claims.

Seattle and Denver combined for only three five-star players. There were 19 rated four stars. There were 33 with three. There were 17 with two stars. One was rated with just one. Then, there were 15 players not rated by any service playing in the Super Bowl.

"Mel Kiper (at ESPN) rated Seattle's draft two years ago with Russell Wilson as a C minus," Bielema said. "Ask me in three years."

It never changes. Everyone is happy on signing day among the coaches. Part of it is the reality that it's done. Yes, there are always those that got away, but with Arkansas it was more about the needs filled on Wednesday.

Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is happy to have a new quarterback enrolled at mid-term. He's had mid-term enrollees at quarterback in four of the last five years, including two weeks ago with Rafe Peavey.

"Getting him here early is everything," Chaney said. "Whether or not it helps him be ready to play next year is yet to be determined, but it's clearly better than if he wasn't here. He wouldn't get a shot this spring if he wasn't. I'm hopeful to get another one at mid-term next year and another the year after that. I like that a lot that he's here."

And, there's help at wide receiver already on campus with mid-term arrivals Cody Hollister and Jared Cornelius, half of the big-little additions in the 2014 wideout group. JoJo Robinson and Kendrick Edwards joined them by signing Wednesday. Edwards (6-6) and Hollister (6-4) are the big and Robinson (6-0) and Cornelius (6-1) are the little.

"We wanted physical wide receivers," Chaney said. "You want the speed with the little guys and we needed that. But really we were missing the physical guys last year as much as the speed.

"I think the physical guys that can take a pounding and then give you something in the run game with blocking against the corners makes a big difference and that's what we were missing. So we signed two smaller speed guys and two bigger guys with length and size. You want both and we got that, what we were missing.

"Sometimes people look at you and say, ‘Those guys are soft at wide receiver.' What they really meant is that you were small. Little on big looks soft. With that in mind, we got size, guys who can block and break tackles and turn that short gain into a long gain.

"I think we improved the wide receiver position with both speed and size and that was the goal. I like what we did to our offensive team there."

Then there was linebacker where Randy Shannon is jumping up and down about the outside help. It's about playing in space where Dwayne Eugene, Khalia Hackett, Randy Ramsey and Anthony Brown all have ability to run and cover against spread teams. Speed at linebacker was a huge need.

"We had to," Shannon said. "What I like is that all of them are getting bigger since football, while still playing basketball. They are gaining weight and while they play and that's a great sign. Sometimes you gain weight while not doing anything. These guys are getting stronger and keeping their athletic abilities on the basketball floor.

Some may think we didn't sign any true middle linebackers, but that's not what we need. We think we have three guys who can play that spot on our roster. We needed outside linebackers, guys who are great in space. That's what these guys are to me.

"You think you need guys to stand in there at inside linebacker in the SEC, but really there are only two teams in our league that play a lot of two-back and call for inside linebackers and that's Alabama and LSU. What you need are outside linebackers and safeties to play in space.

"That's what we got. The spread requires speed and athletic ability. We needed that."

Pittman, advertised as a terrific recruiter, was doing chest bumps in the office Wednesday as the signing letters arrived to give the Hogs offensive line blue-chippers Jovan Pruitt, Frank Ragnow, Sebastian Tretola and Brian Wallace. Ragnow and Tretola will both be tried at center where Travis Swanson snapped the last four years.

Well, Pittman would have been cart wheels, but he's got a terrible knee.

"I had a coach tell me a long time ago if you can't do a cartwheel when a guy commits to you, that means you're recruiting the wrong guy," he said. "You know I can't do a cartwheel but in my mind I was doing them. And a backflip."

Pittman shrugged when asked about his reputation as a strong recruiter. He said he didn't have a measuring stick since he doesn't go on the road with others.

"Well, I don't know," he said. "I've never really been recruiting with anybody else. But really, I think it's all about relationships, you know. You can't turn on a relationship in two weeks. It has to be a long time. you recruit these guys for a long, long time. it can't be, hey, I missed two weeks and I didn't write you, or I didn't tweet you, or whatever the new fancy stuff you do nowadays.

"But it has to be consistent. And of course your program has to have some needs. But I want to recruit guys that want to compete. I don't want to recruit a guy that goes, hey, where am I on the depth chart. I don't want that. I want the guy that says, OK, you've got an all-american? I'm going to beat him out. So we try to find those guys first and foremost. And once we do, we go sic em."

Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper were freshman All-Americans last year.

"Well, our freshmen we had last year we had one get a little hurt and he redshirted," Pittman said. "The other two, I think made some kind of all-america team. So we think pretty highly of those guys. And then this new crop of guys, it would be hard to be more pleased with the guys we've got in our class. They're good kids. And very talented.

"Certainly we weren't the only ones in America that wanted them. But they're pretty talented guys and they love the game, that's what I like about them. I really feel like we're going to see some nice things out of that group."

Some think the offensive line will develop into the strength of the team.

"Well I hope so," he said. "That's why they hired me. I hope it is." Ragnow and Tretola were listed as tackles, but that will change soon. Pittman wants to look at them at center where Swanson left a void and the top backup, Luke Charpentier, will be a senior. Pittman seems fascinated with the prospects of Ragnow at center. He sold Ragnow on that possibility.

"No," Pittman said when asked of Ragnow's background as a center.

"Neither did Travis Swanson and it worked out pretty good for him. But no, he didn't."

Why does Pittman see Ragnow there?

"Well, he can run," Pittman said, noting the basketball footage of Ragnow dunking in the open floor. "He's athletic. He's smart. All three of those things you have to do to play center. A lot of people talk about well, left tackle, left tackle. If you don't have a guy, there's one snapper and one quarterback on every team and everybody else has got two of everything else. You better have you a center. Frank ragnow, I believe, is going to be a great center here."
Clearly, there are thoughts of more true freshmen playing in the offensive line like last year, perhaps Ragnow at center.

"I don't know," Pittman said. "Last year you talked about Denver and Skipper, you know, I don't know if realistically I thought they could play or not. But obviously if they're better than what we have, sure it's realistic. But whether he does or not, we won't put that kind of pressure on him. If he's ready, we'll play him. You know we will."

Perhaps speed kills at center as well as wide receiver, linebacker and everywhere else in the SEC. And, the Razorbacks got faster Wednesday.

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