State of the Hogs: No Drop Zone

Arkansas wide receivers on the mend have a great desire to get back on the field. This style of play is not something they want to miss for long.

I don't remember too many Arkansas games without a dropped pass by a wide receiver. Perhaps I was a little surprised.

Paul Petrino was not surprised.

Petrino, the Arkansas offensive coordinator and wide receiver coach, expects what most of us would call the unexpected.

"We had a lot of games at Louisville where we had zero drops," Petrino said this week. "We sometimes put together three in a row. We thought we had the best receiving corps in the country and that was what we expected, no drops."

And, yards after the catch.

Petrino said the staff charts what they call "bull yards," or yards after first contact in each game. There is a friendly game -- with no wager -- each week as to who gets the most yards after contact, the wide receivers or the running backs.

"It's a pride thing," Petrino said. "No reward. Nothing at stake. But our players want to get to see the chart to see who gets the Razorback (sticker) by their name, the wide receivers or the running backs. It's something they really look for."

If any of us are surprised that the Hogs had zero drops, we shouldn't be. We should have seen this coming. We've watched all the drills, all the effort in practice and the time after time that Paul Petrino and then running back coach Tim Horton chase their players at the end of play to emphasize the extra yards.

Practices are closed now, but we've seen plenty of examples of the fine detail in the passing game to suggest this day was coming ... no drops.

When there were dropped passes last year, no one, outside fans, seemed alarmed. The coaches said there would be drops at first, but that sooner or later, the timing and the repetitive nature of what they do in the passing game would take effect.

In the spring when wideouts couldn't handle Ryan Mallett's bullets all the time, Petrino suggested that it was the result of the speed being on the wideouts in a couple of over-the-middle routes in a particular sequence and that the drops would go away after they practiced together all summer. It went exactly as Petrino called it.

The detail and the organization of the passing in practices amazes all that attend workouts. I noticed a drill a month ago that featured the wideouts running post after post just in warmups. The quarterbacks would switch ends of the field when all receivers had taken a turn. When the QBs got to the other end, a manager had lined the footballs in perfect order for the drill to continue. To do that, the wideouts handed the ball to the manager as they completed the play.

Well, one day it wasn't going as prescribed. A certain wideout was tossing the ball at the manager and he couldn't catch the ball with two more in his hands as he was trying to line them up. The ball would bounce crazily as the manager scrambled to track it down.

Bobby Petrino had seen enough of it. He sprinted to the wideout and challenged him. He said, "You are no more important to this team than him," pointing to the manager. "Hand him the ball like we've said in the drill. There's a reason."

The reason is that they can get in a few more throws each practice because there is no wasted motion.

I noticed a freshman wideout running a great route in the corner of the end zone in a goal line drill early in practice. Bobby Petrino congratulated him, hollering praise. Then, as the wideout jogged back up the sideline, then took a right to cover the ground back to the huddle, Petrino changed his tune.

"You did everything right in the route, but you picked the longest track back to the huddle," he said. "What are you doing? Come straight back to the huddle and you can get in the nexty group. Think about what you are doing even on the jog back."

No wasted steps. No missed assignments. Everything with a purpose. Everything with a plan.

That's why the passing game looked so precise Saturday night against Missouri State. In fact, it was precise. And, it was fun to watch.

The Hogs have lost two fine wide receivers already. Lucas Miller and London Crawford are both out with collarbone fractures. Miller may be back in two or three weeks. Crawford has probably three to four more weeks before he can play again.

Someone asked if Crawford could redshirt if his recovery goes on the slow side. That is a possibility. He hasn't used a redshirt and after one game a medical redshirt is doable.

I can't imagene Crawford wanting to wait until next year to get back on the field running routes with Ryan Mallett throwing strikes. He's going to work like crazy to make it back quickly this season.

I wouldn't guess any wide receiver would ever want to redshirt and miss anything this coaching staff is doing in the passing game. It's flat out fun for the receivers and it sure is fun for the fans.

I wrote a headline for a sidebar on our Internet site late Saturday night for a story on the Missouri State game that carried a simple title: Passing Fancy.

That's what these Razorbacks are doing right now. And, it's only going to get fancier.

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