State of the Hogs: HI Football Preview

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It's always a labor of love, the football preview we put out at Hawgs Illustrated. It's a time when we dive into what happened in the spring, what is to be expected for the fall.

I like to talk all of the assistant coaches, the head coach and the coordinators. When you are done, you have a decent idea of what the next Arkansasfootball team will be like and what needs to happen for the Hogs to get to the next level.

The current edition, what we will call our 2007 Football Preview, was printed Thursday. It's a bit of a changing of the guard, so to speak, since we added Marc Henning as our new chief photographer.

He did some fine work with the cover, a couple of shots with Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Peyton Hillis and Michael Smith. There are a few more portrait shots scattered throughout this 100-page issue.

It's almost all football. There's a good chunk of recruiting information from Dudley Dawson, including a column on hoops recruiting that represents the only non-football item in the magazine. Dudley picks our Top 33 recruiting list with specific quotes on the top players from rival coaches across our state prep scene, a novel approach that turned out to be entertaining.

There's intensive football coverage, including a player-by-player assessment for the entire squad. Houston Nutt handled the offense. Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring gave us the quotes for each player for those on his side of the ball.

Columnist Harry King gave us his breakdown of how the season will go. Without giving away his thoughts, I'll just provide the headline: Don't Assume 9-3.

There is an SEC preview that comes from Scout.com, our partner on the Internet. The Scout.com publishers of the 11 other SEC teams gave us their breakdown of their particular team. I'll tell you that they voted Arkansas as the SEC team most likely to suffer a downward this season.

I asked the Arkansas head coach about that prediction. He didn't seem surprised, given the turmoil in the offseason, particularly in some segments of the fan base. He thinks that influenced those not close to the UA program to think it will hit a decline.

There are player features from each of the nine areas of the team. I'll give you this hint; defensive end Malcolm Sheppard, who will take Jamaal Anderson's spot, made a huge impression. If and when there is a fan club for Sheppard, I volunteer as the first president.

Sheppard is a fine player. Herring and the rest of the UA staff all sang his praises after bowl practices and during spring drills. He's just as fine a person.

Listen to Louis Campbell, assistant athletic director for internal operations, talk about Sheppard:

"We've got a bunch of good kids on this team, some that not a lot of people know about yet," Campbell said. "Malcolm is one that you feel good about standing up on the table and making sure everyone hears about. He's really a good person. Of course, it's nice that he's a very good player, too."

During Sheppard's interview, there wasn't a time that he didn't start his answer with a simple two-word phrase that seems to be forgotten so many times by today's spoiled athletes. "Yes sir" rolls off his tongue the way "you know" comes out of the mouth of so many others.

There's plenty of other stuff to sink your teeth into, like interviews with McFadden, Hillis, Smith and Jones from the awesome group of running backs. There are also features on Casey Dick, Jonathan Luigs, Jerell Norton, Weston Dacus, Marcus Monk, Matt Hewitt, Andrew Davie.

I especally liked the time I spent with Norton, the man assigned the task of taking over for Chris Houtson at cornerback. He brought along his high school sweetheart for the interview.

The beautiful young lady filmed the session and took still photos, too, with her digital cameras and then asked Norton and this writer to pose for pictures at the end. I expect that there will be some chuckles some day when Norton tries to explain who the old guy was in that picture, if and when anyone asks.

There may be have been others, but the only time I can recall something like that happening before was when Chrys Chukwuma, about eight years ago, brought two young ladies with him for an interview.

I give Michael Smith credit for being the best interview. He may have been the star of the spring at tailback with McFadden and Jones sitting out most contact drills. Smith said his goal was to take every hit and prove to coaches that his smallish frame could take a pounding in hopes that he can earn some time along with the two tailback headliners.

"I know most of my carries are going to be in the fourth quarter," Smith said. "Why wouldn't they give it to Darren and Felix instead of me. They are both All-Americans. Hopefully, my time will come. I'm just trying to do enough for the coaches to give me a very small piece of the pie.

"I do think that I made an impression on Coach (David) Lee. I think I proved something to him this spring and that he is on my side when it comes to spreading the ball around just a little bit. I hope so, anyway."

McFadden revealed that he would be more of a home body this summer and not spend evenings out as he might have in the past. His celebrity status has grown to the point that it's almost a given that he'll be recognized any where he goes.

"I'll do more things at the house and stay out of public places," he said. "No one's told me to do that. I just know it's smart."

There wasn't a player who didn't think the Hogs were going to be good again. Smith had a simple explanation on why he believes that to be true.

"We know how to practice," he said. "Being good in games starts with practicing well and preparing for games. We know what it takes in practice to be prepared."

Of course, there are plenty who talked about the passing scheme, both the routes and reads of the wideouts and quarterbacks, and the blocking protections as the key to the season.

There's a Q&A session with David Lee. He provided a glimpse of what he hopes to do with McFadden's role in the Wildcat Package, but warned that he wants to be careful not to rely too heavily on that area of the offense.

Lee also provided a detailed assessment of McFadden's ability and what he brings to the table from the eyes of NFL scouts. In summary, it's McFadden's versatility as a runner, receiver, blocker, thrower and kick returner that makes him special.

All of that and more is scattered throughout our 100 pages of Razorback coverage. We've printed some extras. If you'd like yours, you can get a subscription and all 20 issues for $49.90 by calling 800-757-6277.




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