State of the Hogs: Spring Football

Bobby Petrino wants someone to step up at middle linebacker, but Arkansas football fans have some other ideas of spring wishes.

The topic on our premium message board at Hawgs Illustrated centered on the top priority for a come through when Bobby Petrino begins his third spring as Arkansas football coach on Tuesday? More simply, the question: What would make you feel great?

I just repeated what Petrino listed as his number one during his visit to the Saline County Razorback Club one week ago in Benton. He wants to find a middle linebacker. That's one of the few spots where there is not a returning starter.

Petrino said the open spot at middle linebacker is the big question mark for his team heading into spring drills. He has several ideas on how to fill that post, starting with senior Jermaine Love, no more than a special teams player the last couple of seasons with the Hogs.

If you would design an SEC middle linebacker, you might want a little more height than Love. But otherwise, he looks good in his uniform and, according to Petrino, is "off the charts" in how he runs, lifts and hits. He should be more than adequate for the position, if he can play within the scheme of the defense.

That last part has always held back Love, the 5-11, 230-pounder from Garland, Texas. Recruited to be a weakside linebacker, he has yet to find a home. He has three letters, but it's become obvious that his main ability is a striker on the inside.

"Middle linebacker is our biggest question to be answered this spring," Petrino said. "We are going to look at Jerry Franklin and Freddy Burton there. They both have played well on the outside and Freddy did well in the bowl inside (with Wendel Davis suspended).

"But Love is the one we hope can step up there. He looks like a player. He's just had a hard time understanding the scheme. That's always been his problem. We are going to give him a chance this spring and see if he understands it now.

"Terrell Williams will also compete at middle linebacker. We are going to look at several players there.

"To me, this is what this spring is all about. Once the middle linebacker spot is set, then we can get the other linebacker spots set."

The depth chart released ahead of spring drills can confuse the issue. The list at middle linebacker has it Love, Williams and Austin Moss.

At one outside linebacker slot, it has Franklin and Burton. The other outside linebacker spot lists Jerico Nelson and Bret Harris.

Really, you could have four starters in the linebacker rotation. Nelson and Harris are battling at the jack or hybrid linebacker spot that the Hogs will use against offenses with three wideouts.

But a base look that might be needed against two-back sets like Alabama, you might have Nelson and Harris on the sideline and three true linebackers with a strong/ weak look on the outside. That might include both Franklin and Burton with another linebacker at mike (middle) in a true 4-3.

It's interesting because the offensive depth chart lists 12 starters, with three wideouts, a tight end, a running back and a fullback. You could do that with the defensive depth chart, too, listing three linebackers, plus the jack linebacker/safety.

There has been a lot of work on the passing game in the last two Arkansas spring drills. That won't change as long as Petrino is the head coach. But expect to see plenty of hard-nosed work on the running game as new offensive line coach Chris Klenakis tweaks techniques.

Klenakis uses more pullers in the running game aspects of The Pistol, some of which will look like the counter trey, made famous by Jim Hanifan with the Washington Redskins.

Improving the running game was the top priority among several members of our message board.

Others want better kicking. However, the real competition in the battle for the placekicker's job won't get hot until fall camp when Brian Camera and Zack Hocker, the new signees, get to campus.

Offensive line play was mentioned by several others. Improvement in the secondary - with no regression anywhere else - could lead to 10 victories, concluded one fan.

I liked the Hawaii message board regular who listed five areas. His fifth: Become hungry and learn to finish! One of his other priorities was shared by Petrino as a major key for this team to get to the next level against the likes of Alabama, Florida and LSU: Become dominant on both sides of the ball on the line.

The best summation for what would make Razorback fans feel great might have come from "Jhawg" in his 2,556th post on our message board:

"Oh, and what really would make me feel great is if we whip Ole Miss like a yard dog this fall and Bobby Petrino tells Houston at midfield after the game, ‘Dang, Coach Nutt, I'm sorry I hung 50 on you, but I just couldn't help myself.'"

Finding a solid SEC middle linebacker this spring might not help the Hogs hang 50 on anyone, but it might make for a laugher anytime they do.

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