State of the Hogs: Road Trip

The theme of the vacation: one last getaway before football season begins.

I've done the same sort of trip before, a drive to Colorado to visit Jim Daniel at his ranch northeast of Denver.

There's a trip Saturday to the Frontier Days Rodeo in Cheyenne, Wyoming, for the George Strait concert. Then, it's back to the ranch to load horses and pack for a trip to the Mount Zirkiel Wilderness.

The closest town is Steamboat Springs. An 8-hour trail ride along the Continental Divide will get us to our camp at Luna Lake. No mechanized rigs allowed. No cell service. No people. Five Alpine lakes within one mile. We'll fish them four or five days.

It will provide the perfect chance to use my birthday gift. Tony Austin, Little Rock rod builder, presented me the "Clay Henry Special" last month for my double nickel. It's a split-cane bamboo fly rod, a sweet little 7.5-foot for four weight that will be perfect for the high lakes and streams in Colorado.

Some say fly fishers with bamboo rods are part of a cult or just a little wacky. If so, I'm guilty.

I think it's neat to know the maker and like the idea that if I break it, I know where to take it. Why fish them? Oh, it's romantic, kinda like watching video of defensive tackle Loyd Phillips whip Texas offensive lineman in the mid-60s.

Those little bamboo rods are still the best ever made, kinda like Phillips. The one Tony gave me was the 80th he's built. He hand planed it and made two tips. It's a Perfection Taper, built off the Paul Young parabolic specfifications. It is more beautiful than a Ryan Mallett spiral.

There is a price to pay for this trip. Jim Daniel, sometime when we are sitting by camp fire wearing fleece vests at 9,000 feet, will ask for a summer update on Arkansas football. Thankfully, Bobby Petrino gave me the fuel to stoke Jim's fire for Hog football at a media briefing Wednesday.

What I'll tell Jim is that the Hogs should be better than last year when they didn't have enough defensive linemen. Jim always asks about the big uglies, his word for good d-linemen.

The truth is that last year the Hogs were not good enough there. The bell cows were never heard from. That should have been Ernest Mitchell and Antwain Robinson, both suspended by the end of the season. Either they were never healthy or they never bought into the Petrino system. Or, perhaps both.

The thing I liked most about Petrino's message Wednesday concerned the defense. He sees leaders on that side of the ball coming out of the summer conditioning program. He cited linebackers Jerry Franklin and Wendel Davis. Isaac Madison fits in that category, too. I really came to attention when he talked about defensive lineman Adrian Davis, Malcolm Sheppard and Jake Bequette stepping up as leaders.

Petrino said that when your defensive linemen are leading, you are probably headed in the right direction. Jim Daniel, in his quiet cowboy way, knows that to be true. He'll ask me about the offensive line, too. Petrino covered that, noting the competition there has intensified and will lead to better play than last year when there were more sacks than touchdowns.

Actually, it's the competition everywhere you look that makes me think this is going to be an Arkansas team that could surprise. The competition at quarterback, running back and wide receiver will make both practices and games fun for the coaches.

If someone has a a series of bad practices or game performances, they may get passed on the depth chart.

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