Hogs Fill Needs With Linemen

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas coach Houston Nutt had a rather long grocery list of players that he needed to pick up on National Signing Day.

After losing the last three games of this past season in part because of missed field goals, Nutt wanted to find a reliable kicker. So he signed former Springdale High star Alex Tejada.

Nutt also was in desperate need of some linemen after losing three starters on the offensive side and another two starters on the defensive line. So nine of the 27 prospects who signed letters of intent with the Razorbacks on Wednesday are linemen.

And after granting freshman Mitch Mustain -- the star of last year's recruiting class -- a release from his scholarship early last month, Nutt had to pick up another quarterback. So he got two, including Nathan Dick, the younger brother of current starter Casey Dick.

For the Razorbacks, this year's recruiting class was all about filling needs and plugging holes.

"We needed these two quarterbacks. You've got to have two more on your campus by fall," Nutt said following his news conference Wednesday afternoon. "You needed a kicker. You needed a deep snapper. All these are very important pieces of the puzzle."

Last year, Arkansas assembled a recruiting class that was filled with skill players, including seven wide receivers. But the Razorbacks took a different approach this year, instead making it a priority to sign offensive and defensive linemen.

It was a less sexy approach to recruiting. As a result, Scout.com ranked Arkansas' recruiting class 10th in the Southeastern Conference, ahead of only Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Overall, the Razorbacks finished with a class that ranked No. 33 by Scout.com.

"You've kind of got to alternate years -- skill (players), linemen, skill, linemen -- (to) kind of keep everything even," Arkansas recruiting coordinator Chris Vaughn said. "But we were just blessed to have a pretty good linemen class here in the state. That's where everything starts."

But the Razorbacks missed out on one of the nation's best offensive line prospects in former Rogers High star Lee Ziemba. He signed with Auburn despite playing only a short drive from Arkansas' campus.

Arkansas was unable to sign some of the state's top recruits, and Nutt and his coaching staff had to combat the negative press that the football program received after former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn left last month for a job at the University of Tulsa.

"Recruiting gets so vicious, and when you go in the living room and (the family has) got the (newspaper) articles laminated, you know the other school has been there," Nutt said. "When it's on the coffee table, when it's in the middle of the living room, you know that you've got to go in and defend.

"You can't go there on the offense; you've got to go defend. That's tough."

Nutt said of the 18 recruits who had committed to Arkansas before the turmoil unfolded, only one signed with another school. That came as a relief for Arkansas' coaches as they hit the recruiting trail.

"If I had one theme song of this class, (it's) the solid 17," Nutt said. "(They) never wavered."

After winning 10 games and finishing last season ranked 15th -- Arkansas' highest since 1989 -- Nutt and his assistants made a conscious effort to fill some of the holes that were noticeable in the team's four losses.

The Razorbacks picked up three linebackers, including Jermaine Love of Garland, Texas -- to add some depth to a position that was depleted by injuries last season.

In addition, Arkansas signed five defensive backs in the hope of bolstering an area that has struggled. Nutt said he would have liked to have signed more cornerbacks, especially after Chris Houston decided to leave school early for the NFL. But Nutt still picked up at least two cornerbacks.

"When you lose guys, you've got to replace them," Vaughn said. "If you don't, you end up in a situation where you can only do so many things on defense because you don't have enough defensive backs. Or you can only do so many things offensively because you don't have a tight end."

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