State of the Hogs: Feed the Studs
Feed the studs. That's the simple version of what new Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino wants to do in his offensive system.
On paper, Arkansas lost most of its studs from the last three seasons. Gone are Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Peyton Hillis and Marcus Monk.
However, the new staff did identify some holdovers with stud-like bodies over winter workouts. Several have jumped to the front of the lines with the new offense and that was noticable at Thursday's opening workout of spring drills.
At tailback, there is 6-2, 218-pound Chip Gregory, moved from outside linebacker to get a tryout as the big back in Petrino's style of offense. At wideout, it's hard to miss 6-2, 200-pound London Crawford and 6-3, 192-pound Marques Wade.
None of those have a lock on starting slots just yet, but all made a few plays in the first workout. Wade hauled in several bombs that drew him a mention from the head coach after practice and a few interviews from the media throng.
Wade was mentioned a lot two years ago by the defensive staff for the way he ripped up cornerbacks as a part of the scout team during a redshirt season. But was hardly on the field last year as a redshirt freshman.
As a reporter reintroduced himself to Wade (the subject of a feature early in his UA career) on Thursday, the sleek Atlanta product said, "It's been awhile since we talked, right?"
No one should crown anyone a star after one pad-less spring workout. And, we won't. It's just worth noting that there are still studs left on this Arkansas team.
Gregory's move was the one highlighted by most pre-spring stories and mentioned by Petrino in all of his stops around the state at Razorback Clubs. What he brings to the offense might not be obvious in the kind of workout the Hogs went through Thursday.
"He kinda looked like if you were playing basketball for the first time of the year, maybe not sure of all of his steps, not really sure where he's supposed to be," Petrino said of Gregory. "But I like him. I think I'll like him more when we put on pads.
"I saw enough today that I like having him there. He did some good things today, but he's going to look better when we hit."
The hitting will come fast and hard, too. Tim Horton, who coaches the running backs, noted that is going to be one major difference in the way the Hogs practice.
"Our backs have gotten used to one way," Horton said. "The black (don't hit me) jerseys are gone. I think players gravitate to what they are accustomed to on a daily basis. Previously, there was not a lot of contact.
"I think these players are going to find and our new ones that come in for the fall, that we have a lot of contact. I don't think it will bother them because they will get familiar with it and thrive on it."
Gregory's size stands out among the rest of the returnees at tailback. Brandon Barnett, at 5-10, is the next tallest. Torian Wilkins is 5-9 and Michael Smith stands just 5-7. Don't be surprised if all get a piece of the action.
"We've got some competition there and Barnett, Smith, Wilkins and Gregory," Horton said. "I don't know if we will be a one tailback team. We are going to have a group that can run it, block and catch the ball and push themselves."
That seemed to be the theme Thursday no matter where you looked. A lot of receivers got into the action, too.
"We've got great support among the wideout group," Wade said. "We are moving fast and getting to a lot of things in a hurry. You don't see us walking anywhere. Our coaches aren't just the ones pushing us. We are pushing each other and supporting each other. From the very start, we are playing fast and trying to finish fast.
"You see every play, you get knocked down, get up and run the distance to the end zone. Finish everything. Go fast. Push, push, push.
"I thought it was going to be like this, but I'm not sure I thought it was going to be this fast and intense."
Crawford said the wideouts are licking their chops.
"The repetitions have gone way up," he said. "You see the football get to a lot of different hands. So many footballs are getting thrown and in a short period of time that you are going to see everyone get used to catching the ball."
No doubt, a lot of different hands are going to touch the football. But this is a guess that many with the biggest hands -- those belonging to the studs -- get a chance early and often.
It's clear that full contact will provide separation as spring rolls forward. Right now, it's about feeding the studs.
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