State of the Hogs: Trees

Arkansas has athletes, just needs more height. That's the observation from a football man. He's got it sized about right.

Sometimes you can know just enough to be dangerous. You can be so close that you are blind.

That can be the problem with covering the same team day after day. I know quite a lot about the Arkansas football program. But I don't see enough of other teams for a valid comparison.

There was a 14-year period I worked at the Tulsa World for Bill Connors, the late sports editor.

He didn't like beats. He came up with a schedule for four writers that rotated them among the four teams the paper once covered on a daily basis -- Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Tulsa and Arkansas. He called them the Big Four.

It was a sweet job. Each week, you changed teams.

You didn't get stuck with an 0-11 team, although most of those programs were pretty solid. The head coaches: Barry Switzer (Oklahoma), Jimmy Johnson (Oklahoma State), John Cooper (Tulsa) and Lou Holtz (Arkansas).

I'd watch the different practices and have an idea of who had players, who didn't. I also had an in with Harry Buffington's NFL scouting service, located in Tulsa. Harry and his scouts, United Combine, would give me a look at their draft board room from time to time. Sometimes there were surprises, but more times than not I knew about the same talents they rated highly.

There were a few times that I thought highly of an all-league player. Harry would tell me, they were PR campaigns by the sports information director. Just too little, he'd say.

Size (or height) matters to the NFL scouts. Speed is important, but little fast guys don't get it in the NFL. Or, the SEC.

That's what hit home about this Arkansas team last spring when I watched a practice with a veteran football man with knowledge of the top programs around the country. He'd seen Oklahoma, Southern Cal, Texas and Florida on film and in the flesh.

So what did he think about Arkansas? Very well coached, but small. We came up with 16 players on the field that day on offense or defense in the skilled spots, all on scholarship, under 6-foot. Nine were 6-foot or taller.

"They are being taught great technique, great schemes and they have talent, but they are just a lot smaller than the four or five elite programs nationally," he said. "I can see where this program is headed, very much up. But they are small at receiver, running back and on defense. They need to get bigger.

"They can run. They have quickness and speed up front on both sides of the ball. I see athletes. I just don't see size.

"The one exception is at quarterback. There is size and ability. I really like Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson. They are good-looking, big quarterbacks. And, they are getting coached."

The football man pointed at battles between the wide receivers and the corners. That was where the lack of size was most glaring. It was Isaac Madison versus Joe Adams. Ramon Broadway against Jarius Wright.

"The top few programs around the country don't have those matchup problems," he said. "They are bigger. Those players have the quickness. Michael Smith is the best back out there and he's very small."

Then, he made a prediction.

"What Arkansas is doing on both sides of the ball helps," he said. "They are going to get some bigger athletes. Players will want to be here. They should improve. Look out when they get bigger, faster athletes. This staff knows what to do. They will be good here."

There are bigger athletes on the way in the secondary and wide receiver. Some of them are already on campus in the form of the 2009 recruiting class. They aren't ready to play, but they'll get a crash course and be able to help at some point this coming season. There is better height in both areas in the coming class.

There's an old saying about not being able to see the forrest for the trees. Arkansas should have more trees soon. Look out.

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