Hogs' Offense Could Look Better In Spring

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino has an extensive offensive playbook that's at least a few inches thick.

But he didn't get as many chances as he'd like this past season to dig deep into his playbook to get more creative with the offense. That's why spring football can't come soon enough for him.

By that point, Arkansas' players will have had a year to get adjusted to Petrino's system. Every skill player is expected back, though leading rusher Michael Smith will likely be sidelined as he recovers from hamstring surgery.

And just to make things more interesting, there will be a quarterback competition that will likely pit former Michigan starter Ryan Mallett versus everyone else.

"I expect us to be better (offensively), there's no doubt about that. You're in it for a year and you know what we're asking them to do," Petrino said Wednesday afternoon during a news conference to wrap up his first season with the Razorbacks.

"Sometimes when you have new freshmen and you're playing a lot of young guys, there's a saying that you say that every day is a new day. Sometimes there's not a lot of carryover from day to day, so you have to re-teach every day.

"Now, you expect when you're in the system for a year that every day is not a new day anymore."

The Razorbacks experienced some growing pains as they finished 5-7 to miss the postseason for the first time since 2005. At times during the season, though, they also offered a glimpse of the high-powered offense that Petrino hopes to see more of in the spring.

Senior Casey Dick opened his final season as Arkansas' quarterback with a pair of 300-yard passing performances in come-from-behind wins over Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe.

And while he was never considered the ideal candidate to run Petrino's offense because of his lack of arm strength, Dick showed that a quarterback can put up big passing yards in Arkansas' new system.

Dick came within 2 yards of tying a school record when he threw for 385 yards in a 30-23 win over then-No. 19 Tulsa on Nov. 1.

And even when redshirt freshman Nathan Dick — Casey's younger brother — took over as the starter for the final two weeks of the season, it was apparent that Petrino's system allows quarterbacks to have big games.

The Dick brothers combined for four 300-yard passing games, the most by any team in the Southeastern Conference this season and three more than Arkansas had in its 114-year history.

"If we call this play, (the quarterback) should be able to picture in his mind, know exactly what he's going to do against the defensive look that you're going to see," Petrino said. "And that's really how you start getting better as a football team and be able to do more and expand on your offense."

Petrino admitted there were times midway through this past season when he had to scale back the offense and simplify it to make things easier on the young players.

And even though the Razorbacks averaged only 21.9 points per game, they finished second in the Southeastern Conference in passing offense (259.6 yards per game) and fourth in total offense (373.1 ypg).

Mallett is considered the favorite to enter the spring as Arkansas' No. 1 quarterback despite Petrino's insistence that the competition is "pretty wide open."

The sophomore was a highly touted recruit who started three games as a freshman at Michigan before transferring to Arkansas last spring and sitting out all of this past season.

"Ryan has a tremendous amount of natural leadership. He steps in the huddle and he demands the respect of his teammates," Petrino said. "A lot of that comes natural to him."

Meanwhile, the status of fellow quarterbacks Nathan Dick and Tyler Wilson is more uncertain.

Wilson is still recovering from mononucleosis, which caused him to miss the last two months of his freshman season. And Dick is apparently weighing whether to transfer to another school to assure himself of more playing time.

That leaves the possibility open that Mallett could lead an offense that features a handful of young and talented receivers, a possible All-American in tight end D.J. Williams and an offensive line that has worked on improving its pass protection.

It should at least make for an interesting spring.

"We're looking forward to the offeason," Petrino said. "We have a lot of things we have to improve in the offseason."

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