A lot will have to go right for the Razorbacks to win more than 6 or 7games. This was my view before Ken Hamlin's troubles. Hamlin may miss theBoise and South Florida games, two opponents that bring in veteran QBs and wide-open passing attacks. I doubt Boise's defense is good enough to beatus, but if we score on South Florida we can score on almost anyone.
Recruiting season yielded little margin for error at the positions that arepivotal to success this season and beyond: OL and DL. The traditional analyst would worry about the challenge of initiating new starters at QB, LT, LG, C, TE, weakside DE, NG, DT, MLB and SS (disregardingthe FS situation), plus the relative level of experience at those positions,and the revolving door of position coaches at several of these positions.
Among those, the line holes trouble me most of all. Arkansas has not beenthis vulnerable at center entering a season since Frank Broyles first set foot on campus. Broader problem is the Hogs have struggled to recruit true tackles on both sides of the ball. The roster is dominated by linemen who are not especially nimble and not especially strong, and Arkansas plays in aleague where you had better be at least one or the other.
Arkansas is in a precarious position on the Oline. Two starters return from a line that was very limited. The line should gain a lot from having a guyas big and strong as Jason Peters at TE, plus maybe a couple of bigger, better FBs. Still, this line may have to dip into the recruits before it is stabilized, and that always introduces uncertainty. Not impossibility, uncertainty.
The defensive line looks like a twin blanket on a king bed. Cover one thing and something else comes out. Absence of speed from the corner is a notable change in this defense, and if the Hogs decide to live with that weakness without major changes, it will be a risky decision. At this point, it appears to be illogical to put four of these Dlinemen on the field at a time. The LB situation is so much better in terms of quality and depth it'sridiculous.
Jermaine Brooks means everything to this D. He's the only all-SEC-caliber lineman. At 6-3 and 300 pounds, he is the only real tackle, and he is moving to NG. He also is coming back from shoulder surgery, a significant risk factor. Have you ever seen an SEC team, with any hopes at all of winning, that had this kind of talent and depth situation on the defensive line? It's more of a blend problem than an overall talent issue. One SEC assistant coach said he would take nine other SEC teams' defensive lines over Arkansas', giving exception to Vandy and Ole Miss. Maybe he just does notknow the young players, or maybe he is right. I understand the post-spring mood was of grave concern about the Dline.
Arkansas has recruited loads of talented backs, and they are beginning to pop up all over the depth chart. They do little to address the major problem that Houston Nutt's offenses from 2000 to date have shared, which is blocking. Weak spots in the blocking have forced the Hogs to go vanilla against better defenses or gush turnovers, and going vanilla takes away most of the benefits of having all those highly skilled backs.
Fans have yearned for a breakaway speed WR since Anthony Lucas left. The real problem has not been speed but an absence of skill. Not enough great hands, too little ability to separate from defenders, compounded by a persistently underdeveloped passing game with no one QB in the saddle long enough to develop chemistry, timing and knowledge, plus an Oline easily overwhelmed by gambling tactics. All of these factors should be better this season, but how much better depends on how effectively the offense punishes defenses that overload and gamble. More experience at QB will help, and DeCori Birmingham will help. Chris Baker will not. It bothers me how much hype has been thrown over a kid without a prayer of qualifying. We were told for months on end that Baker was the needed deep threat, that other recruiting losses didn't matter, and apparently the Hogs have known for a long time that they will be lucky to see Baker after junior college. Ostrich behavior helps nobody.
Having good assistants such as Bill Johnson and John Thompson fly in and out of the program in short order is not consistent with high expectations. Houston Nutt has had a lot of setbacks in the building process, foremost among them an inability to build a coaching staff that serves as the foundation for a program with a consistent identity, in which teaching and recruiting start to build the synergies that come from success and continuity.
In my view, people who are asking this team to win 9+ games in 2002 are basing their views on where they believe the program should be in Nutt's sixth season, not where it stands. They minimize the drag caused by staff turnover and cross their fingers in hopes that our linemen will overachieve.
I cannot go further without pointing out that the SEC very well could regress enough to offset our weaknesses. That would not make our team any better in an absolute sense, but it would open the door to a good-looking W-L record.
What must go right, regardless:
* No injuries at TE, FB and DL.
* Somebody develops in the heap at WR.
* OL must find five starters who don't need too much help from other positions, which means getting more (new) guys with good feet on the field.
* One QB must emerge.
* Pass rush must emerge.
* Must improve ability to stop the inside run.
Many of these "go rights" feed into what I view as the most vital "must do" for this team: Give the running backs room to run. I have hopes that Nutt and staff will stick their necks out in August and make a couple of dramatic changes that address major weaknesses, rather than ask mediocre players to play significant roles in offensive and defensive systems that we would struggle to execute. It's either that, or go through the same cycle we saw in 2000 and 2001 (and to a lesser degree in 1999).