Bobby Petrino gave the first Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club meeting a dose of excitement Monday at Springdale. The Arkansas football coach also thinks a punt return specialist has emerged.
The last tidbit included a nod towards perhaps the most famous UA punt returner, then a promise that the Hogs would return a punt for a touchdown this season.
Petrino acknowledged Ken Hatfield sitting in the front row of the more than 500 at the Northwest Arkansas Convention Center before saying, "Coach Hatfield, we are going to return one for a TD this season. I promise."
Petrino said Joe Adams returned a punt for a TD in a Friday night scrimmage. Interestingly, Petrino produced a phantom flag to call it back just to see what the offense could do from its own 1-yard line. The result was pretty good.
"We ran the same play that we called last year when Broderick Green went 99 yards against Eastern Michigan," Petrino said. "I called Ryan Mallett over when we called that play. Ryan wanted to pass it. The guard missed the block in the hole this time and Broderick had to break two tackles at the line and then one more after 10 yards. He went 99 again.
"We are going to call that our 'Coming Out' play. I think Ryan thinks it is a pretty good play now."
Petrino said Green had an impressive scrimmage. He didn't give a lot of other details other than to say center Seth Oxner sprained a foot and was "dinged up." He said they'll evaluate Oxner later in the week, but he said the junior should be fine.
Petrino thinks he has a more physical team and much better leadership in his third season. He said there has been a natural maturation from his first season when 16 freshmen played.
"We went through some growing pains with all of those freshmen," he said. "I remember two years ago when we had four freshmen wide receivers. They didn't know how to break the huddle. They'd leave the huddle and they would be pointing at each other different directions.
"We hope that pays off now. I think you see some of it on our special teams where we have some size and speed now. We are much better.
"We are much tougher physically. We are tougher mentally.
"I believe that there is always going to be the hammer or the nail. You either are the hammer or the nail. One person is going to hit and the other person is going to be hit.
"Sometimes you are going to be the nail. But when you are, you get back up and the next time you are the hammer. You work to become the hammer more often. That's what we have taught this team. I think we are better physically. There were some games last year where we weren't physical enough, like Alabama and a few others. I think we will play with great effort."
Petrino talked about defense several times. He thinks experience will help that side of the ball play faster. But he also said a couple of position moves will help defense play faster. He pointed to Anthony Leon's move from safety to linebacker to get a faster unit on the field. The same thing goes for Rudell Crim's move from cornerback to safety.
"Knowing the playbook helps you play faster," he said. "Playing faster doesn't mean your 40 time. Whey you play fast it means you didn't hesitate. We know what we are doing and we know the what the other team is doing. We know their tendencies and we we see them and react.
"We are better in the front and the secondary and we are still working through things at linebacker. But we are getting closer at linebacker."
Then, he said what everyone already knew.
"Everyone in the room, everyone in Arkansas, every player on our team knows that if our defense plays good, we've got a chance to be good," Petrino said. "I think our defense has a chip on its shoulder. The best thing that could happen is for in one of those two early games is for our defense to have a dominant performance, where we get three and outs and make plays on third down 80 percent of the time to get off the field."
In regards to leadership, Petrino singled out Ryan Mallett on offense along with Jake Bequette and Ramon Broadway on defense.
"Ryan has a smile on his face when he comes into the meeting room or onto the field,' Petrino said. "If he came into this room, he'd be smiling and he'd lead. But we've got good leadership in other places."
He praised Bequette.
"Jake's grown up," Petrino said. "Our first year, we had 16 freshmen and we were probably hard on Jake because he'd been here the previous spring. We forgot that he was a redshirt freshman and hadn't played. But now he's a junior. He has a chance to be as good as anyone in the country at his position. He's 6-5, 270 and he runs under 4.6 in the 40.
"I think we've really helped him and put himself in position to show leadership. He's blossomed.
"Ramon Broadway may be one of the smallest in stature, but he's got one of the biggest hearts. He's a great guy to echo what the coaches say. When he leads us out onto the field, he's saying the same things we say. He's done an excellent job leading and I couldn't be more proud of him."
Petrino said it wouldn't be a surprise that the Hogs throw it often.
"We are going to throw," he said. "But we are going to run it better. We are going to run it better late in the third quarter and in the fourth quarter."
He said he expects all four running backs to play a strong role, but it may be the one who blocks the best in pass protection who emerges as the No. 1 back.
"We have worked hard this preseason to be good at all 11 positions at protecting the quarterback," he said. "We are also getting more precision in our pass routes from the wide receivers and the backs. I think there might have been a couple of days where our wide receivers got two-a-day legs, but they are more on time now. They are getting precise. We expect them to be precise."