State of the Hogs: QBs and Safeties

You have to like some of the early signs of spring football. The defense isn't lying down and there is competition at quarterback.

There was a great sign for Arkansas football Wednesday when Arkansas conducted a major scrimmage in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Ryan Mallett did not dominate.

Oh, make no mistake about it, the Texarkana product looks like a great one at quarterback for the Razorbacks. He's not great just yet, but there are wonderful plays that will convince any practice watcher that his potential is up, up and away.

It's just that Tyler Wilson hasn't gone away just yet in their QB battle. He had a fine day Wednesday. And, the first team defense isn't going to lie down for anyone.

Why wouldn't you like those two developments? I love it when there is more than one candidate at quarterback. Competition is a great motivator.

And, if the defense isn't kicking some tail in spring drills, it's a warning that the coming season will be long.

I've worried about safety at Arkansas for most of this century. The top two free safeties from last season, Elton Ford and Matt Harris, were both on the sidelines with injuries Wednesday. Ford is sitting out contact after sustaining a neck injury last fall. Harris dinged a shoulder early in the scrimmage.

That gave the stage to first-year safeties Tramain Thomas and Jerico Nelson. They put on a nice show. They aren't quite ready in all areas, but they made plays against the first team offense.

Both delivered bone-jarring hits throughout the afternoon and Nelson made two interceptions. Both are going to be good players. When I mentioned them to an old defensive coach after the scrimmage, he said he liked both.

The most impressive move of the day might have been after one of Nelson's interceptions. His knee buckled as he came up for the play, but he only missed a few snaps before returning to action. You love safeties who can absorb the knocks and keep playing. It's a sure bet safeties will get more than a few dings next fall.

Head coach Bobby Petrino loves the way Thomas pulls the trigger on a hit. Thomas tackles high and with great form. He will blow up backs and receivers. He needs to be quicker in the read between run and pass, but he seems to get better every day.

Back to quarterbacks. It's all anyone wants to talk about. Mallett has not disappointed, but he isn't the finished product yet. He still needs work on the way he runs through his progressions to improve the mesh in the short passing game. I believe he'll get it. He's got the best coaching for quarterback development there is in college football. That has always been Petrino's specialty.

Mallett has the best arm I've seen at Arkansas since Joe Ferguson. I was a freshman at Arkansas when Ferguson was finishing up. I saw some wow performances in practices and games. The way Ferguson threw the ball down the field, both on posts and deep outs, was as pretty as anything you'll ever see. Mallett is in the same category.

However, Mallett still has to learn to be softer in some of his throws. Tight end D.J. Williams had a pretty good take on Mallett's velocity after a practice last week.

"He throws it so hard that there are times it just turns your gloves around," Williams said. "It comes in there that hard."

That isn't always great. Those short passes that are too hard can be tipped in the air and are easy targets for safeties. I've seen that happen some this spring. Petrino is coaching that out of Mallett.

Mallett and Wilson entered the spring with an "or" between their names. That means they were rated as equals on the first team. There has been no depth chart released through the first five workouts, but Mallett got all the snaps with the first team in the scrimmage Wednesday. Wilson worked with the second unit, giving way only at the end briefly to Jim Youngblood.

Wilson doesn't throw it as hard as Mallett, but he does many things as well or better. He is especially good at the off-balance throws when he takes a side step in the pocket. His strength is also one of his drawbacks. It's that quick three-quarters motion that allows for those off-balance throws. It's also a lower release point and can be blocked by linemen.

Wilson has outstanding touch and throws a fine deep out. He sees the field well. And, when he spots his man, the ball comes out in a hurry. I liked the way he moved from one receiver to the next Wednesday, although none of the quarterbacks were perfect in that area in the scrimmage.

Petrino talked afterward about all three needing to be more patient in working the progressions.

Wilson struggled in practice last fall with one thing that is usually taken for granted. He didn't always get the snap clean, or move away from the center smoothly. He had been in the shotgun since the eighth grade. He appears to have a better feel for taking a snap now.

I think most who've been watching like what they see from these quarterbacks. I'm in that camp. But what I like most is that the safeties are not making them look too good.

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