State of the Hogs: Toughness

Toughness has been everywhere you look this spring at Arkansas. It's the basic principle of Bobby Petrino's system.

When Bobby Petrino was hired at Arkansas, the thought of most fans concerned his style of play, especially on the offensive end.

Style of play is important in today's football world. Fans want it to be wide open. They want to see spread formations with multiple wideout sets and they want to see passes down the field.

Actually, they don't just hope to see that kind of offensive play, they demand it. Ask coaches like Rick Jones, highly successful on the high school level at Greenwood.

"When I go to the coffee shop on Saturday morning after we've played the night before, and we've thrown for 300 yards and lost the game, our fans are not happy, but they at least tell me they enjoyed watching that type of game and know we were trying to score from start to finish," Jones said. "You catch a little bit of a break from fans if you are throwing it."

That's not the reason coaches throw the ball. They do it to win football games. They know that losing, sooner or later, means they will be looking for new jobs.

Bobby Petrino said he lives with fear just like players live with fear. He has a fear of not being able to provide for his family.

Petrino's first Arkansas team is emphasizing the pass, as was his reputation at Louisiville as a head coach and in stints as an assistant coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars and at other stops including Auburn and Arizona State.

I've seen in the first week of practices a heavy dose of the passing game, including large chunks of his system in high-paced 7-on-7 drills that feature around 40 plays in that 20-minute segment of daily practice. Included in some of the team 11-on-11 segments are plays with four and five wide receivers. I've seen things in the passing drills in team segments that suggest quarterbacks better understand the passing game, including how to step up in the pocket to make protection easier.

But that is not what I like best out of everything I've seen in the first week. It's the toughness that I've seen stressed from Petrino down through every member of the coaching staff. Tackling drills are front and center every day.

The Hogs held what some might have thought a decent scrimmage on the fourth day of workouts, a 11-on-11 session that featured 78 plays. As the next major scrimmage approached, Petrino was asked to compare it to the first scrimmage. He said there wasn't much comparison, that the second one would be much longer, much tougher and characterized the first weekend's session as "easy."

That's a good place to start when describing what Petrino is doing with his Arkansas squad. Nothing has been easy, nothing has been less than tough. It's what he's all about.

He said the scrimmages the rest of the way will be designed to test toughness, character and find out who can be counted on in the fall.

That's the good news about this coaching staff. Everyone wants more passing, more sophistication. They are going to get that, but not at the risk of losing toughness. That's how you win in the SEC.

Yes, after watching a week of practice there are more receivers open, the quarterbacks are more accurate and the pass protection is improving. But, I think there will still be a tough running game. I believe toughness will be the top priority on defense. Heck, I'm betting even the kicking game plays with toughness.

I'll take that and run to the bank. Give me toughness and I'll be happy.

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