It's time to answer some questions. There's a ton of them as Arkansas players report Sunday for Bret Bielema's second camp. The good news is that there aren't as many as this time last year. Bielema has a better team for 2014.
The depth is better, but far from perfect. There is better speed on both sides of the ball and the entire roster has a lot more time in Ben Herbert's strength and conditioning program.
One of the coaches who knew Herbert well told me in the spring of 2013 that Herbert's true worth wouldn't show up so much in year one as it would in year two, three and four. As more and more layers of strength are added, Bielema's teams will reap the benefits of Herbert's ability to transform players into beasts. And, they will be fast beasts. Leg strength translates into speed more times than not.
There are more playmakers at wide receiver, tight end and running back. Jim Chaney will have more fun calling plays for this bunch.
There are finally some middle linebackers with some training. Brooks Ellis and Otha Peters will be better at the end of the year than they are now, but they are no longer newbies. They are in their second year under Randy Shannon and it will show.
There is depth at cornerback, something that no one imagined at this time last year. Jared Collins, Carroll Washington, Tevin Mitchell, Will Hines, D. J. Dean give the Hogs a group that gives a talented group of freshmen some time.
Those were the key question marks that I saw answered in the spring. More talent is needed at all of those spots on both sides of the ball. More development and age is needed at those places, too. But it's encouraging to see growth and maturity begin to show.
So what has to happen before Aug. 30 and the trip to Auburn, one of the nation's best teams and the defending SEC champion? Oh, many things. There is a long list of question marks still for these Hogs.
I'll start with an obvious statement. Quarterback Brandon Allen has to take the Hogs to the next level in the passing game. He has to make plays and avoid the bad ones that plagued him last year in a season of pain killer shots for a bad shoulder. He has to inspire his teammates and become the leader of the team. Quarterback must always fill that role.
Allen is improved, excited about answering the question marks that haunted him through a bad shoulder sophomore campaign and giving the Hogs an SEC type quarterback, something some question he has in him. I think he'll do more than enough at quarterback, thanks to fewer question marks around him along with his improvement as a passer.
Offensively, the next big deal is the man giving the ball to Allen. Who will it be? Mitch Smothers was listed as the first team center, taking control from Luke Charpentier midway through spring. Will Smothers,now up to an impressive 320 pounds for his junior season, hold off the charge from a wonderful cast of new offensive linemen, perhaps led by Frank Ragnow and juco transfer Sebastian Tretola?
Next, will Austin Allen or Rafe Peavey -- or both -- step forward to claim the backup quarterback spot so senior A.J. Derby can concentrate on what might be his professional spot, a do-it-all tight end with wonderful hands, a quick step and the ability to get open deep? I think that will happen in the first week, perhaps at the end of Saturday's scrimmage, likely to be open for public viewing.
Who is the go-to man at wide receiver? I think it will be Keon Hatcher, one of the demonstrative leaders of the offense. I think Demetrius Wilson, the senior leader at wideout, will give the Hogs a deep threat. He's enjoyed a great summer, along with juco transfer Cody Hollister, perhaps the surprise of Herbert's off-season camp.
Freshmen wideout Jared Cornelius, superb in the spring along with Hollister, gets some newcomer help from Kendrick Edwards, a big target for Allen, and JoJo Robinson. I wouldn't be surprised if speedster Eric Hawkins finds a deep role in Chaney's offense. He seemed to mature at the end of spring.
How many of the new offensive linemen will emerge like Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland did last year. Ragnow, Tretola and Brian Wallace will be hard to keep off the field. It helps that UNLV transfer Cameron Jefferson can step in at left guard, but I wouldn't be surprised if Wallace pushes at that spot. Wallace is probably destined to be a tackle, like Skipper. But Wallace has huge talent and it will be hard to keep him off the field.
I have no questions at running back and tight end, although someone needs to step up at fullback. It could be Tyler Colquitt, a bull of a freshman from Pulaski Academy who got a scholarship after producing in Herbert's program. One of the issues will be getting all of those talented players on the field, the challenge for Chaney in camp.
Chaney hinted after spring that Alex Collins might be the most versatile and able to step into a wingback/flanker role along with his regular duties at running back. He seems a natural at anything.
The depth at tight end should produce a quality H-back, perhaps Derby. The fifth-year senior knows all aspects of the offense and excels at helping the rest of the tight ends in the meeting room as they expand their roles. Don't be surprised at the number of plays Alex Voelzke gets, too. He's going to help as he learns to harness a reckless nature.
Defensively, there are a few things to settle in fall camp, most notably depth at the two inside tackle spots where Darius Philon and DeMarcus Hodge are solid starters. Can Cordale Boyd, converted from guard with the arrival of the highly regarded newcomers, make the transition and give the Hogs another 315-pound run stopper? What about true freshman Bijohn Jackson? How much can he be counted on by the Auburn trip? It's likely going to be a hot day and there needs to be a good rotation inside against Auburn's fast-paced scheme.
Defensive coordinator Robb Smith also needs to sort out the new arrivals at outside linebacker and safety. How many can learn how to align properly in camp to provide depth at Auburn? Who among the corners can add nickel back to his list of duties? It might be Carroll Washington, especially against Auburn's version of the spread.
Outside linebackers Martrell Spaight and Braylon Mitchell looked improved in the spring, adjusting to their pass coverage responsibilities in Smith's scheme. But who can provide depth? Josh Williams, late junior college signee, should make a move. How about freshman Dwayne Eugene, Randy Ramsey or Khalia Hackett?
Safety looks improved as far as depth. Alan Turner, Rohan Gaines, De'Andre Coley and Sleepy McKinney had good springs, but can one of the freshmen DBs -- perhaps Josh Liddell -- give some depth. Tiquention Coleman can play safety or the hybrid linebacker in nickel situations. Is there someone else to give him some competition there? He'll probably play there against teams with more running personnel. Can he cover in space or is that going to be a Carroll Washington role?
Sam Irwin-Hill is the lock at punter, but can true freshman Cole Hedlund keep there from being a drop at placekicker with the graduation of Zach Hocker? No one took control of the kicking job in the spring. It didn't seem a concern since Hedlund was the nation's top-rated placement guy. But he's got to do it from day one and be the man at Auburn. That's not easy.
The Hogs report Sunday. They'll get on the field Monday with Bielema giving his first update at 4:45 p.m. after practice. How many of these questions can he answer in that first meeting? I guess that's the best question for today.
State of the Hogs: Questions?
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