Special Attention

It's no secret that Arkansas has spent a significant amount of time on its special teams this preseason.

In fact, the Razorbacks spent the 20-minute portion of practice open to the media going over special teams assignments much of last week.

But coach Bobby Petrino said Friday there are obvious reasons for the extra attention.

"We've spent an extra amount of time because of the youngness that we have and the newness of the schemes," Petrino said. "Us not knowing a lot about our players in special teams from previous years.

"We have to do a great job of evaluating them as individuals and then evaluating our schemes and how the freshemen fit in."

Arkansas will give several members of its freshmen class an opportunity to play on special teams.

For example, four freshmen spent time working with the kickoff coverage team last week. And three more were members of the kickoff return team.

Arkansas also will be counting on freshmen to handle the football. Receiver Jarius Wright will open the season at punt returner. He and freshman safety Elton Ford have been the top two kickoff return men.

So Petrino said he wanted to use the preseason to make sure everyone is ready for the roles.

"I always get nervous about freshmen on special teams early in the season," Petrino said. "I don't want to put them in position where they can cost you a game on special teams. It's something we've spent more time than normal."

Game Week

Fall semester classes at Arkansas begin Monday, presenting the Razorbacks with a unique challenge as they enter game week: Get used to class schedules while concentrating on Western Illinois.

But Petrino said he'll try to combat the hectic time by putting the Razorbacks on the field Monday.

"You actually wish you had started (last) week," Petrino said. "We'll practice on Monday, which normally won't be a practice day for us. One of the reasons is to get the bad practice out of the way when you start class. There certainly is a different mindset and different distractions that get you before you get back on the field. We'll do that on Monday."

Players believe the adjustment shouldn't be too bad because they've been given two days off to prepare for the start of classes. Arkansas scrimmaged Friday night, but will not practice again until Monday.

"I think everybody is going to take it easy and rest up as much as they can and get their legs under them and get ready to start off with game week," guard Wade Grayson said.

Quit Horsing Around

When Arkansas steps out on the field it will have to get used to some rule changes.

Horse-collar tackling, when an offensive player is grabbed by the back collar of his shoulder pads and brought down, will be a 15-yard penalty this season.

"We would've had four penalties in spring ball," said Petrino, who believes it is a good rule. "We've worked hard making sure we've covered it with our defense and our special teams. One of them was in special teams play. We would've had two so far this fall, so we've got to do a good job of coaching that."

The play clock also has been changed again to 40 seconds after standing at 25 in 2007. The clock will start at the end of every play. Last season, the 25-second clock started after officials marked the ball.

"I wish they would just leave it alone," Petrino said of all the tinkering the NCAA has done the play clock the past few years. "It's a great game. You see all these seven overtimes, great comebacks, one of the reasons is the length of the game.

"The ball stops and you get so many plays. It's at an all-time high, college football, so I'd personally like to see them leave it alone and play the way it is."

Developing Quarterbacks

Petrino is regarded as a coach with an impressive ability to develop quarterbacks.

One of Arkansas' quarterbacks — freshman Tyler Wilson — believes he is living up to the reputation.

"I think they've developed (starter) Casey (Dick) big-time just over the spring and through the summer," said Wilson, who is fighting for the backup job. "I've seen great improvement in his abilities. You know, he coached (former Louisville quarterback) Brian Brohm and some other big-time quarterbacks and you've seen what they've done.

"Having the coaching through the fall has been beneficial. I think I'm throwing the ball better than I've ever thrown it. I attribute it to the coaching and being out here and taking as many reps as I have."

Watching Western

Petrino said the Arkansas staff has watched plenty of film on its first opponent, Western Illinois.

The Leathernecks finished 6-5 last season, which included a 21-0 loss to Illinois. So Petrino said it will be important for Arkansas to eliminate mistakes.

"They run the ball very well," Petrino said. "They've got a very, very good running back. They're going to give us some pro sets, plus the spread and four wide receiver sets. So we're going to have to do a good job of getting lined up. We've got to stop the run first.

"They have a lot of experience back on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they run a very unique package. it's based out of the 3-4, but two inside linebackers up over covering your guards all the time."

— Robbie Neiswanger • The Morning News

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