Trust, confidence, knowledge, experience and leadership. That's where the 2009 Arkansas football team should be better if you ask the players and coaches.
That's what I've done over the last couple of weeks during exhaustive research for the June issue of Hawgs Illustrated magazine. That's our annual football preview. And, it's easily the most fun I have every year outside of the actual games in the fall.
In talking to Paul Petrino and Willy Robinson, assistant coaches who coordinate the offense and defense, respectively, and a handful of players, it's clear they all expect improvement this season.
It leads me to think this Arkansas team will be good. Unfortunately, just about everyone else on this SEC schedule is as good or better. I'm standing by my 7-5 prediction that ran in this space last week.
One of the most interesting discussions of the week came when Petrino, who also coaches the wide receivers, provided specifics on dropped passes from spring drills. In viewing the "cutups" of spring practice, it became obvious that most of the drops — and almost all of those by sophomore receiver Joe Adams — came after certain routes in the "quick passing game." But let's go back to "cutups" to understand the detail.
With the computerized video system utilized by this staff, the coaches and players receive a DVD that groups plays by similarity. They can get a disc that has all of the similar plays strung together.
"What we saw in the cutups was that Joe and some of the others were getting most of the drops in the quick game and it looked like it was because they were coming out of the short routes and the ball was just getting there so much faster than they'd seen it in the past," Petrino said. "They got better at adjusting to those balls as the spring progressed and we think working with these quarterbacks over the course of the summer will make it even better."
Both Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson just delivered those short passes quicker and faster than what they'd ever seen.
"They've just got to pick the ball up faster," Petrino said. "They will. It's something that just comes with working with these quarterbacks over time. It's just on you quicker with both of them."
These coaches have seen it before. That may be the reason they don't seem to panic like fans when they see a drop in practice. The coaches go back to tape to evaluate what caused each one and they know the methods for correction.
"What we want to make sure they do this summer, rotate through all the quarterbacks, make sure they are all catching Ryan and Tyler equally," Petrino said. "We don't want them catching the same quarterback each time. They'll get to where they can adjust to all of them."
They want to make sure they see those full hummers Mallett and Wilson throw. It's all good.
"I think what you will see is that the quick game is where a lot of our big plays are going to come, yards after the catch," Petrino said.
"These quarterbacks can throw it in a tighter space and it will make it harder for the defense. That was a very big part of our offense last year and it's only going to get better with these two quarterbacks. Both have such quick releases."
The trust between the quarterbacks, receivers and the coaches seems to be building. The players talk about it and so do the coaches.
"It's just a comfort level," Petrino said. "The players feel it with us and we see it in them.
"You see leadership developing. To be honest, with the offensive unit last year, the leadership wasn't a strong point."
It was hard for anyone to step out when they didn't have knowledge of the offense.
"That is changing," he said. "It's just a confidence level. It's encouraging to see it coming. We aren't there yet, but we see things happening to make you think we are going to get there. We want to be the best offense in this conference. That's our goal."
State of the Hogs: Confidence
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