Bobby Petrino held his pre-spring media briefing Wednesday. It was similar to the message heard Monday night at the Saline County Razorback Club and elsewhere around the state this spring.
In summary, the Arkansas head coach thinks his third team is bigger, faster and just plain better than his first two in the Ozarks. Chuck Barrett, the radio man who travels with Petrino as a Razorback Foundation rep, introduced Petrino after the catfish feed at Benton High School. He prepped the crowd of about 550 with all the stats about last year's team, including favorable numbers on turnover ratio and SEC bests for offense and passing touchdowns.
"All of those things Chuck just said," Petrino said, "are to try to put pressure on us."
Petrino, a very good speaker, paused for effect, then said, "I like pressure. Bring it on."
On Wednesday before the assembled Razorback Nation media, Petrino said, "Our expectations are higher from fans to coaches to players. We feel like we can go out and comepte for a championship. That's where we want this program is to have those high expectations. Now we have to go out there and play and win those big games, and we'll all be happy."
The Hogs are conducting testing after their third winter under strength and conditioning coach Jason Veltkamp this week. They'll have a week off for spring break, then begin practice Tuesday, March 28. The conclusion will be the spring game on Saturday, April 24. Petrino is elated over the winter results. He said there are 12 Hogs who bench pressed over 400 pounds, six on each side of the ball.
Steve Caldwell, the new defensive end coach, raved about Jake Bequette, a regular the last two seasons and one of the established leaders in the defense. Caldwell told the crowd in Benton that as good as Bequette has been in the weight room this winter, he's just as proud of his efforts in the class room.
Bequette will graduate with a degree in finance this May. He's still got two years of eligibility! Bequette is hopeful he can begin law school in the fall, but will need special permission.
"I may have to wait," he said. "They (law school officials) want me to take 15 hours. I'd like to take 6, so I might start graduate school in another area."
Bequette looked slender, but strong as he took the podium on Wednesday. He said he's carrying around 270 on his 6-5 frame. He's wowed everyone this winter.
"Jake has set the tempo in our offseason," Caldwell said. "Demario Ambrose is right there with him. Those two have shown a lot of leadership.
"Jake is doing it on the field and off the field. He'll have his degree when we play in the fall. Our young players see that and it's a great example.
"In the weight room, he's well over 400 pounds in the bench and that's very good. And he's fast. He's running the shuttle with our defensive backs. He's impressive."
Bequette said he's aware of his role as leader.
"I know I'm one of the older guys," he said. "That's one of my main goals, to lead. I want them to look up to me in the offseason program. I want to help the younger guys. I bring some experience that helps them."
What has he learned from a couple of months around Caldwell, the former Tennessee assistant?
"I know he's been in the SEC a long time," Bequette said. "He's an expert on the defensive line. He's coached a lot of first round picks. He's going to make us so much better. I know he's going to stress technique."
What about expectations? They are sky high.
"Coach Petrino has made it very clear to us that we have the pieces to play for a championship," Bequette said. "But you don't want to get too wrapped up in expectations. You worry about expectations, you lose focus on the moment.
"But we want to set our goals high. We want to be more consistent on defense. We know our offense is going to be explosive and we don't want the defense to hold them back."
Jake Bequette is a good football player. He's going to make a good lawyer, too.
Petrino touched on the Pistol formation during his media conference, which will see added emphasis with the addition of offensive line coach Chris Klenakis from Nevada.
"We've done a little more than dabble with it," Petrino said. "We were very effective with it. We call it Shot, not Pistol. It's easier to call in the huddle.
"We were really good throwing the ball out of it last year. We did a good job in the dropback game and play-action adn in the movement with the quarterback. If we can add the run game to it, it helps us a lot. It allows you to run the ball downhill. I think it will help Tyler Wilson a lot and he needs to get better at the run game. I'm excited to see how it looks and how much improvement we can make in it. I think if we can run the ball out of it, it will make us tougher to defend."...
Isaac Madison will return to the field from a torn ACL. How much he'll do is to be seen.
"I haven't decided how much he'll get to do in the spring," Petrino said. "He's cleared to do everything but I will meet with the doctors the Monday before practice starts and the main topic will be what he can do.
"He's done a nice job in the off-season. His maturity, toughness and confidence helps us a bunch in the secondary."
Also expected to go through the spring drills is tight end Chris Gragg, who was sidelined with an ankle injury last year.
"Chris Gragg is doing real well," Petrino said. "He had a band injury. Our doctors and trainers did a great job with him. He was able to go through bowl preparation and when we came back he had the screw taken out, and that set him back a little bit.
"He's bigger now and stronger, and I'm excited to have him back," Petrino said. "He ran a 4.52 yesterday, a good time for 242 pounds. We can really use him in our offense, stretching the middle of the field and giving us speed at the tight end position. A combination of D.J. Williams, Ben Cleveland and Chris Gragg can be a good combination for us spreading the field."...
Ryan Mallett won't practice in the spring, but the junior quarterback said he's already throwing the ball despite spending his time on a scooter to get back and forth from class.
"I throw from one knee," he said. "I'm still working in the weight room, concentrating on my good side."
That would be his right side. He underwent surgery on his left shoulder following the bowl game, then had surgery on his left foot after breaking his little toe in morning workouts.
Mallett said, "The plan is a week or two after spring break I can get off the scooter and get into a walking boot."
Mallett has been on the scooter, but he's watched his diet and not gained extra weight.
"When you can't run, most people are going to put weight on," he said. "I've concentrated on getting to the right weight I want to be at. I've been able to stay lean and stay fit.
"I know the things to stay away from and the things that will be good for me on the scooter. It helps to see a plan and go through it. I'm about 228 pounds right now."
The Pistol is going to help the running game and with that help the passing game, too.
"We're doing some really good things with that," Mallett said. "It will help us with play-action and getting down the field. It will help us where the defense can't play the same way they did last year. It will help us out a lot."...
Tyler Wilson will take the first-team snaps at quarterback in the spring. He was asked Wednesday if he felt like a "care taker" while Mallett was rehabbing?
"I don't think about it that way," Wilson said. "I look at it as it's my team. I've prepared to lead this team. I've worked hard and I've come a long way.
"I've been looking forward to it. I think through the fall I made great strides to get into that position where I'll be more comfortable in the spring. To get these reps will be very good for me."
Wilson has had some problems taking snaps from center since he played only in a shotgun formation in high school. That won't be a problem anymore.
"We've cleared that up," he said. "I've been working all off-season with the center I'll be working with during spring practice. We have that cleared up and shouldn't have any mis-communication on that.
"A lot of times n practice, like coach said earlier, is you work with one guy in practice and that guy might not dress out in the game. During the game you work with another guy. Sometimes that complicates things. It's frustrating at times but this year will be a little different. We'll have things squared away in that aspect."
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