State of the Hogs: Pick 10

It's prediction time for the season. Defense still not great, but good enough to help this Arkansas team win 10 games and possibly more.

I complimented Chris Klenakis on the progress he's made earlier this week. The Arkansas offensive line coach frowned at me. He sets his bar high, apparently.

That's not just good news. It's great. I like what I see. He doesn't — yet.

"I just think our standards here at this university are very high," Klenakis said. "We are making progress in the offensive line. It's just that I won't be happy until we get to a much higher level."

Or, it could be that I don't know enough about offensive line play for my opinion to matter. Sadly, it's all you'll get here today.

How good are the Razorbacks? How many games will they win this season?

That's the only questions I get these days. I even got that three weeks ago when I got away one last time before the start of football practice. Someone in a drift boat on the Norfork River recognized either me or my voice.

I gave him my standard mid-summer line of it's too early.

I promised that guy — and again in this space two weeks ago — that I'd pick a number after the first scrimmage.

I wanted to see special teams. They are better.

Returning punter Dylan Breeding is better. I'm not sure Alex Tejada will hold off Eddie Camara for the place-kicker job. But if he does, it will mean he's better. Camara is better than Tejada was last year. I think Joe Adams is an improved punt returner.

The kickoff units — return and coverage — appear to be better. Zach Hocker is likely to be the kickoff man. He's made the Hogs better.

This is not going to be a great Southeastern Conference defense, just good enough to help the Hogs improve overall. Linebackers are still a work in progress. Depth is a concern. But they are better.

The secondary is improved, too, but not great.

Where the Hogs are vastly improved is the defensive line. Alfred Davis may be the best interior defensive lineman I've seen this decade at Arkansas. He's a wide body with a newfound ability to run. He made plays wide in the scrimmage.

Paired with DeQuinta "Dede" Jones, the Hogs will be much better in the middle. Look out for Byran Jones, too. He'll be a force inside at some point this season. Bobby Petrino told me Wednesday that Jones isn't just going to be a good player, but "very special. He's really, really good. We liked him when we signed him, but he may be better than what we thought. He is just so strong and he's learning fast. He's first to every drill, first to get to his spot in team."

The ends are so good that I have visions of three on the field at the same time, maybe four. Jake Bequette, Damario Ambrose and Tenarius Wright would all play on most SEC defenses. Newcomer Chris Smith can help there, too.

The offensive line is improved, too, in part because of the competition it sees in the defensive front daily.

The tackles are better. DeMarcus Love is better at weakside tackle and Ray

Dominguez is much improved this fall. Grant Freeman is a capable backup.

The competition that exists at the other three spots is intense. Alvin Bailey, Grant Cook, Wade Grayson and Zhamal Thomas have been more than adequate at guard. The battle at center between Seth Oxner and Travis Swanson is a dead heat. They have split time with the ones and that might go on for a few more days.

"I just want to see a lot of combinations," Klenakis said. "What I do in camp is try to get more than five ready to play.

You get into the season and someone goes down, it's hard to get another cuys ready. So we prepare for a 12-game season in camp by getting all of them ready. We are making good progress."

That's the key everywhere. More than 22 starters are getting preparation. This is a much, much better 85-man roster. It's one of the best since the Hogs joined the SEC.

And then there's Ryan Mallett and a ton of weapons. Bobby Petrino is going to have fun dialing up pain for defensive coordinators with so much skill at receiver, tight end and running back.

However, the key is that the Hogs are still in the SEC. Nothing will come easy. It will be a grind with lots of twists and turns. They won't have the same 85 guys at the end. But that's why they are better. They have better backups all across the board.

That's why they'll win nine in the regular season, 10 counting a bowl. It could go higher than that if the kickers reach their potential. Will someone tell that guy in the drift boat?

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