Improving Razorbacks

Arkansas head football coach Bobby Petrino was one of the speakers at the Saline County Razorback Club Monday night. Hawgs Illustrated's Clay Henry attended the event and relayed some news and notes from Petrino and new assistants Kris Cinkovich and Steve Caldwell.

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino was among a contingent of coaches speaking Monday night to the Saline County Razorback Club at Benton High School.

He held a brief press opportunity prior to the meeting and below is some of what he had to say.

Petrino said the coaches are in the middle of testing athletes in the weight room this week.

"The thing that stands out is that this is the third year and there's a lot competition, intensity and everyone knows what they're doing," Petrino said. "The good news is the lines are stepping up in terms of their strength.

What linemen are standing out?

"Jake Bequette has really had a good winter," Petrino said. "He's quicker and stronger and has provided a lot of leadership.

"Demarcus Love is also doing well in the weight room. He set some new maxes today."

Petrino was asked how Ryan Mallett (broken foot) is doing.

"He has a great attitude," Petrino said. "Normally you'd put him on crutches but with the (off-season) shoulder (surgery) he can't do that. There's not a whole lot he can do right now. Riding that little scooter is about to kill him. It's all he can do to go to the meeting rooms."

Despite Mallett's injury, Petrino said the team will go through spring drills as planned.

"Won't scale back anything in the spring," Petrino said. "We're going full bore with our offense. Tyler has great experience with the offense."

De'Anthony Curtis worked out with defensive backs in the bowl practices. While Willy Robinson lobbied for him to stay on that side of the ball, he'll move back to offense for the spring, but it won't be at running back.

"De'Anthony Curtis wants to focus on offense so he will be a wide receiver and will put everything he can into that," Petrino said. "He'll help with runs after catch."

Petrino said the coaches also thought about moving Colton Nash, but he will remain at defensive end. He was 270 pounds earlier in the off-season but has been sick and is down to 258 pounds and is just now regaining some strength.

"He's a long way from that 300-pound tackle I envisioned him as," Petrino said.

One of the most interesting things they've started doing in the off-season is a hand-eye coordination program used to train pilots at the Air Force Academy. Some of the defensive backs are working with the receivers at this and the coaches feel the receivers hand-eye coordination is getting better.

On defense the big question will be at middle linebacker. They'll try several people there including Jerry Franklin, Freddy Burton, Terrell Williams and Jermaine Love. Petrino said Love brings a lot to the table in physical ability, but needs to be able to put things together better scheme-wise.

"We'll start out looking at everybody," Petrino said. "After we figure out who can play there we'll figure the outside spots."

At quarterback, Petrino said Tyler Wilson is showing leadership and Brandon Mitchell is having to cut back on his eating.

"Some of his dormmates have called him 'fat boy,'" Petrino said. "He needs to stay under 230 pounds.

"Accuracy is the main concern with him. We know he can run but we won't hit him in the spring. We won't know how good he can run until it's live action."

In the secondary, Petrino said David Gordon has a long way to go. He could potentially redshirt and will be evaluated in the summer.

Darius Winston has continued to get stronger, bigger and his confidence has grown, Petrino said.

The coach also said Anthony Leon has gotten stronger and his confidence has gone up.

"I don't think he would have ever believed he would bench 315 pounds," Petrino said. "He's come a long way in a short period of time. He can do a lot more physically because of his weight program. He was a guy we expected a lot more from last year but he just wasn't strong enough."

Alvin Bailey will be one of the four strongest players on the team, Petrino said. He needs to find a fit on the offensive line but looks good in the off-season workouts.

Petrino was asked if the defense would have a more attacking attitude.

"You have to evaluate where you are in the secondary," Petrino said when evaluating aggressiveness. "If you're not experienced it handicaps you up front and you end up playing a lot of four-man fronts and seven-man boxes. If we're more advanced in the secondary we can do more up front next year."

Petrino said he likes the defensive line. Patrick Jones is in the best shape of his life and running real well. They do practice 40-yard dash times and Jones has the best of any interior linemen. He's now in shape and the coaches expect a lot from him this year.

Petrino said Lavunce Askew has turned the corner as far as work ethic and is coming on.

"It remain to be seen if they can be dominating play after play but that's the goal and there's more depth there," Petrino said.

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New receivers coach Kris Cinkovich said he has been impressed with the receivers in the weight room and in conditioning.

"I've seen hungry young men and I'm really happy with the testing," Cinkovich said. "Our speed numbers have been good. Leadership wise, Jarius Wright has been one of the people that has really stepped up. These guys really come to work and Greg Childs is one that comes to work every day. Joe Adams has also done a tremendous job. Those three have been the leaders and you also have to throw Cobi Hamilton in there. He comes to work every day and is very talented."

o o o

New defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell said Bequette and Demario Ambrose have stepped up in leadership roles at that position.

"Bequette, you better mention him as being a leader off the field as well," Caldwell said. "He's an unbelievable student and he'll have his degree and be working on masters stuff next fall. Mario is right there behind him as far as leadership."

Caldwell said Bequette is stronger and faster. He maxed on the bench press today at 415 pounds and was going for 425 pounds when the coach was leaving for Benton.

"That's getting up there for a 290-pounder," Caldwell said. "He was running shuttles with the defensive backs. That gives you an idea of how quick he is."

A big emphasis this spring will be on third down conversions, Cinkovich said.

"We'll emphasize our third down dropback game," Cinkovich said. "We need to get stronger in the receiver position because of the amount of man coverage we'll see. Recivers need to be stronger because some time in the Alabama game it will come down to if the receivers able to beat their man coverage."

As mentioned earlier, the team has been running practice times in the 40-yard dash. Both Ronnie Wingo and Knile Davis have run times under 4.5 seconds, Petrino said, good for running backs that weigh more than 220 pounds.

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