Arkansas' players saw how things would be different under Bobby Petrino, and the new coaching staff got its first look at the team it had coming back in the fall. But after a long summer apart, the Razorbacks will get reacquainted Monday when they hold their first preseason practice.
There is plenty of work to be done, especially since players must get adjusted to a new coaching staff, new schemes and an offensive playbook as thick as a dictionary.
To kick off the start of fall camp, The Morning News has put together a list of five things Arkansas must focus on between now and the season opener against Western Illinois on Aug. 30.
"The first practice you have is the most over-prepared practice in the entire season," Petrino said. "So our coaching staff and our players, I know they're tired of working out in the weight room and conditioning."
Is Casey Dick capable?
Arkansas' offensive overhaul under new coach Bobby Petrino will place more responsibilities on the senior, who is running his fourth offense in four years.
This one is much, much different, though. Instead of serving as a caretaker simply asked to avoid careless mistakes, Dick will be in charge of a complex system. He will be asked to hit receivers all over the field and work as a primary playmaker for the offense.
Dick showed flashes of promise operating under those terms during spring practice. The Razorbacks need him to gain confidence in his new role in the preseason.
Which freshmen are ready?
True freshmen have played important roles at Arkansas the past 10 years (see Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Cedric Cobbs, Matt Jones and Shawn Andrews).
The coaching staff may have changed, but the Razorbacks still will rely on their incoming class at positions like running back, receiver and linebacker.
Receivers Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, running backs De'Anthony Curtis and Dennis Johnson, quarterbacks Tyler Wilson and Jim Youngblood, and linebackers Tenarius Wright and Jelani Smith are just some of the names that will be given chances to play immediately.
Some of them could step into starting roles. Some will help with depth as reserves. But their contributions will be vital to Arkansas' level of success this season.
Who can be counted on in the secondary?
On paper, Arkansas' secondary is one of the biggest concerns entering preseason practice.
No position was hit harder by graduation than the back four, which lost starters Matterral Richardson, Matt Hewitt, Kevin Woods and Michael Grant.
Without them, the Razorbacks will count on youngsters and former backups like Jamar Love, Isaac Madison, Matt Harris and Dallas Washington to step into starting roles this fall. The good news is this: Petrino believes the group was a pleasant surprise in the spring and will have depth with others like Jerell Norton, Ramon Broadway, Darrell Glasper, Walner Leandre and Rashaad Johnson all competing for playing time.
Find More ‘Studs'
Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino has a simple philosophy when it comes to determining which players should touch the football. It's called "Feeding the Studs," and it's exactly what it sounds like. The best players get the most touches.
But the Razorbacks are thin on playmakers following the departures of running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, as well as wide receiver Marcus Monk and fullback Peyton Hillis. The challenge facing Petrino will be to find a crop of new "studs" on offense.
Wide receivers London Crawford and Carlton Salters impressed Arkansas' new coaching staff in the spring, and tight ends D.J. Williams and Andrew Davie showed they can do more than just block.
Junior Michael Smith heads into the fall as the Razorbacks' most proven running back, but he needs to continue to show he can carry the load. It also wouldn't hurt for several wide receivers to make a case in practice for more playing time.
"We just need a few more studs to step up," Petrino said.
Overcome Linebacker Woes
No position has been hit harder during the offseason by injuries and off-the-field issues than linebacker. Depth at the position was already a concern, and it only got worse with the dismissal of starting outside linebacker Freddie Fairchild and the suspension of backup Freddy Burton.
The next month will be critical in determining whether the Razorbacks can overcome their noticeable holes at linebacker.
"You've got to go on," Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said. "You can't sit down there and dwell on the negative and live in the past."
Unproven backups like sophomore Ryan Powers and redshirt freshman Jerry Franklin are now penciled in as starters, and the chances are good that several freshmen will be counted on to contribute immediately. The good news is that senior Elston Forte has emerged as the undeniable leader at linebacker.
--Alex Abrams & Robbie Neiswanger
Time For Camp To Begin
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