Petrino's First Class

Bobby Petrino's first class is heavy on skill, speed. Joe Adams signs with Hogs.

Right or wrong, the perception of how new head coach Bobby Petrino's first football class is rated with Arkansas fans might start with wide receiver Joseph Adams.

Adams was committed to Southern Cal all fall, but flipped to Arkansas on signing day. The Central Arkansas Christian star is a four-star signee who has a chance to play early in Petrino's system that will upgrade the passing game in the Ozarks.

Petrino, just seconds after finishing his press conference on signing day, was given a chance to downgrade that perception. He declined.

"I don't think I would argue with that (perception)," Petrino said. "Joe is very good, that good. You never know how good for about two years, but we are really excited to sign Joe Adams."

Adams didn't give any public indication he planned to sign with the Hogs until a 9:30 a.m. event Wednesday at his school. But Petrino said he got a commitment phone call from Adams "two days ago." And, Petrino said Paul Petrino, his brother and wideout coach, has felt good for two weeks.

Paul Petrino said he knew by the smiles on his face that Adams was coming to Arkansas during his on-campus visits.

"I got him in the room watching film and we went over some things on stances and footworks, I got him up in the room, and I knew then from his smiles," Paul Petrino said. "I could tell he was coming about two weeks ago."

Paul Petrino knew that Adams had to be one of his main targets on the recruiting trail even before he joined his brother in Fayetteville. He went to Internet recruiting sites in his home before jetting to Fayetteville to see about prospects in the state.

"I was watching video with my 10-year-old son Mason," Paul Petrino said. "We got on the computer and we saw Joe's highlight video. We watched a little bit and Mason said, ‘Dad, we gotta get him.' Mason knows a little football, but it was that obvious."

Counting mid-term transfer Ryan Mallett, who played quarterback last fall as a true freshman at Michigan, the Hogs announced 25 newcomers Wednesday afternoon. Offensive lineman Matt Hall was not on the release, but he also signed late in the day. He was awaiting the signature of his parents before faxing his letter of intent.

Bobby Petrino was pleased with the work of his staff and gave high marks to holdover coaches Tim Horton and Bobby Allen along with his younger brother for their recruiting work, especially in those first few days before the dead period in recruiting in December.

"I'm not sure it was the longest dead period, but it sure seemed like it," Petrino said. "That first three days sure seemed like we did a lot. Our number one goal was to keep the best players in our state at the University of Arkansas."

Because of the transition in offensive philosophy and the lack of holdover talent at wide receiver, bringing in speed and skill was a critical part of the challenge in Petrino's first class.

The head coach said the good news is that there was a lot of both already within the state's borders. The Hogs found wide receivers and running backs, another critical area with the early departures of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.

"We had a lot of what we needed right here," he said. "There was speed and skill right here. We were fortunate that some of our needs were also the strength of the state this year. The state was loaded at wide receiver and quarterback."

What does Paul Petrino see in Joe Adams?

"Number one, I see confidence," he said. "He believes in himself. Number two, I see how smooth he does everything. He has great, great balance. You see him do a lot of things from playing wide receiver, defensive back and even some quarterback. You never see him stumble. That's how the great ones play. He has great hands and he is a great competitor. But balance, flexibility and ability to change directions -- just the things you see in a great athlete are what I see in him.

"He has the ability to sink those hips and change direction. The mark of a great wideout is getting separation. If you have those abilities, you can get separation. He can get open."

There are more with great athletic ability in this Arkansas class, including a handful of players that the head coach didn't want to put into a peg just yet.

The Hogs listed Khiry Battle, Albert Gary, Basmine Jones and Jerico Nelson as "athletes." Bobby Petrino said those would get a chance to play the position of their choice early in fall camp, but could move to several other spots.

Adams was joined on the list of wideout signees by Jarius Wright, Greg Childs, Chris Gragg and Cruz Williams.

There are plenty of other headliners in the area of offensive skill. Mallett was joined at quarterback by Tyler Wilson and Jim Youngblood. And, the running back list was headlined by De'Anthony Curtis and Dennis Johnson.

Petrino said he was "very impressed" with Mallett's ability and his knack for leading. He said that was evident as he helped the Hogs recruit other skilled players over the last several weeks.

"He has a love for athletics, a love for the game (of football)," Petrino said.

Along with Adams, plenty of others have a chance to play early, perhaps starting with Curtis, the big, fast running back from Camden Fairview.

"He can run the ball and run it with power," Petrino said of Curtis. "He can hit you with home runs, too. And, he had 40 catches. He's a fine returner, can catch punts and kickoffs."

Petrino said Youngblood "is a tremendous competitor and a tremendous runner. He can make plays when things break down. He throws the ball well and is a great leader." About Wilson, he said, "He has a history of winning. He knows how to win a big game. He's been in some shootouts. He's very accurate, has good technique and he's been well coached."

There were some surprises in the class. The Petrino's long relationship at Citra, Fla., produced speedy do-it-all athlete Albert Gary, a player who wasn't on any commitment lists.

And, after they missed on a defensive line prospect in Tennessee, they made a late, successful bid at Camden Fairview for 6-4, 240-pound Brian Christopher.

"I studied film of him in the last 24 hours," the head coach said of Christopher, who had pledged Texas Tech. Christopher committed to Arkansas after a 9 a.m. offer with some arm bending from the Hogs' three other signees from Camden, led by Youngblood.

"I liked what I saw of him on film," Petrino said. "He is tough, physical and he's going to get bigger. He can grow into playing defensive end on the tight end side, or maybe move inside to tackle."

Alfred Davis, another defensive line signee, probably played more offense in high school. The Georgia native moved to defense as a senior

"He did a nice job this year," Petrino said. "You see his raw ability. He needs some work on his fundamentals, but has the change of direction and the ability."

The Hogs also picked up another defensive line prospect not offered by the previous staff in Zac Stadther from North Little Rock.

"He was a very good football player for three years," Petrino said. "He's a a high motor guy with great effort. He gets off the ball and plays with passion. He's very tough and will be a nose guard."

There was help on the defensive side of the ball at linebacker and in the secondary, too. There were two corners listed, but out of those under the "athlete" notation there were several who might land at corner, too.

Photo by J.T. Wampler, The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

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