State of the Hogs: Tailing Loops

With the proper depth, concentration will be better for the 2014 Razorbacks. There could be a bowl game if they can play four quarters, something the 2013 team could not accomplish.

The one thing about fly fishing that I've learned – but yet to master – is that it takes total concentration. Or, it does for me.

If I forget my technique, bad things happen. I get that dreaded tailing loop in my line. My tippet tangles. There will be 10 minutes of clipping a bird's nest and retying knots. Sometimes the frustration is so bad that I just head to the truck, pack it in for the day.

Sometimes it's the result of too many hours on the stream. A tired mind will make concentration almost impossible. Then the fly caster makes a mistake. And, it's all downhill, with no big fish in the last hour on the river.

So, I try to find a log for a couple of rests during the outing. Perhaps there is an ice chest stowed close to the river with a cold water, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a Little Debbie's oatmeal cream pie. Oh, that will get me going again.

It's like that for the SEC football team. There needs to be a break. There needs be a chance to refresh the mind. A tough fourth-quarter awaits and it's tough to maintain focus for all 60 minutes without a break.

Bret Bielema understands all of this. It's the part that hit him cold in the face last season when the heart of the SEC came at his first Arkansas football team. That's what he hit on this past January when I asked him what was the toughest aspect of the SEC, perhaps something he didn't see coming.

"Depth," he said. "You better have some. You better be able to rest your guys. The other team is doing that. I think having depth so you have something left in the fourth quarter is what I saw as the difference in our team last year."

The Hogs didn't do well in the fourth quarter, that much is certain. There were few first downs. There were fewer points. They needed more stops on defense. They needed to make a few more plays in the secondary.

Why? They were exhausted. The other team wasn't nearly in that state and it showed up on the scoreboard.

It can get to be mental, but it was perhaps more physical for the 2013 Razorbacks. Bielema knows the answer is to get more players ready. Get more depth.

That's why before the recruiting season was done last year, Bielema said there wasn't a position on the team that didn't need help. And, that was true.

It isn't all there yet, either. Depth is still a question at defensive tackle, linebacker, safety and throughout the offensive line. There are more bodies at most other places.

The defensive tackle depth may be better in camp with the help from a couple of key freshmen. And, there are some versatility at defensive end with Taiwan Johnson, Deatrich Wise and Brandon Lewis that can roll around on the front to provide some depth. Johnson spent all of the spring at tackle and is trying to gain weight this summer. He'll battle all the way to the first game to see if he can get a little bigger.

Funny, but Robb Smith said he isn't worried about Johnson's weight. He said he just wants to make sure that he keeps his real strength, the quick twitch and burst that makes him tough on the inside. He'll play at 275 to 280 and be fine, the new defensive coordinator insists.

It was apparent that Smith was working to find versatility in the spring. More and more, it's about finding about 25 players and then working them at multiple spots and getting prepared for injuries. The depth at cornerback improved the most, but it got better at linebacker when Brooks Ellis and Otha Peters proved they could each play middle linebacker. That means Ellis could switch to the outside in an emergency.

Depth is best at tight end and running back where the Hogs may be three or four deep. And, for the first time since Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson were on the same team, there may be a hint of depth at quarterback where Brandon Allen, Austin Allen and Rafe Peavey may all be ready to play at some point this season.

The key to the Arkansas chances this year lie in the two positions that require the most decisions, quarterback and middle linebacker. That's where Bielema wants to be strong. And that's where the Hogs, because of youth and injuries, were weakest last year.

How quickly will those two positions become a strength instead of a weakness is important. And, how much help will there be for them at defensive tackle, center and offensive guard. Those are the spots where the Hogs lost players from last year, although Dan Skipper is still around, just playing tackle now.

Allen has to become consistent in his decisions, something he noted after the spring. Quarterbacks coach Jim Chaney said Allen has to improve the consistency of his footwork, something he thought had been fixed through the first 14 practices of spring only for it to slip in the first half of the spring game.

The junior quarterback listened. He spent some time at a Florida camp with a quarterback guru doing just what Chaney had preached, the best he could do since UA coaches can't work with their players on technique in the summer.

If that footwork is better, Allen's accuracy may jump. It will help that he has better and more experienced receivers. I'll be interested to see if senior Demetrius Wilson, injured last year when he was slated to start, makes a difference in what will be a redo of his senior year.

Another key senior can make a difference with a redo of sorts. Tevin Mitchel, who gave up big plays last year, impressed his new secondary coaches last spring before injuries set him down for the final six practices. Mitchel was a blue-chip prospect when he came to campus, but has seldom been great. Smith said Mitchel embraced the physical nature of press coverage and might excel in the new aggressive scheme installed this spring.

It will take lots of breakthroughs like these for the Hogs to make it to .500 on the final record. The schedule is that hard. But the reports out of summer camp are good. I'm told the players are like a different bunch in the second go-round with strength coach Ben Herbert. They are making positive steps in many areas.

Perhaps some depth is being developed. Perhaps these 2014 Hogs will be a little tougher, a little deeper so they can concentrate and finish in the fourth quarter. There can be no tailing loops.

OK, so you don't know what a tailing loop looks like. Trust me. It's bad. It's like getting beat deep in the final couple of minutes at LSU, or allowing a punt return at Rutgers that turns momentum for the home team.

I know the task at hand is going to be tough. I'm not ready to make a prediction of a bowl trip, but I've heard nothing that rules one out. There may be some big fish in the last hour of the day for these 2014 Razorbacks.

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