2008 record: 5-7 (2-6 SEC, T-4th West)
Head coach: Bobby Petrino (5-7, 1 year; 46-16 overall, 5 years)
Returning Starters: 17: 7 offense, 9 defense, kicker
Leaders on Each Side: Offense: RB, Michael Smith Defense: DT, Malcolm Sheppard
A losing season was not what first-year head coach Bobby Petrino was looking for during his opening Southeastern Conference act, dropping early season games against Alabama, Texas and Florida before losing four of their next six bouts.
The final game of the season, however, left the mark that the Razorbacks were looking for. Casey Dick connected with London Crawford for the go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes of a 31-30 Arkansas win, giving fans something to smile about after a down-and-out run that included a two-point loss to former head coach Houston Nutt and Ole Miss at home.
Dick is gone, but the strong-armed Ryan Mallett - a sophomore transfer from Michigan – is next in line. If he can hold off the surge from freshman Tyler Wilson, the 6-foot-7, 248-pound gunslinger should make waves in his opening SEC run.
If Michael Smith can stay healthy, the Razorback offense – which returns seven starters – should be a good one. The defense, which has nine starters back, needs to improve if Petrino hopes to make a run at the West.
If both sides of the ball can settle into the headman’s coaching philosophy, the Razorbacks could turn some heads. Things will need to happen quickly, however, as week three begins a six-game stretch that includes Georgia, Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, Florida and Ole Miss.
Ryan Mallett – 6’7”, 248, So.
Tyler Wilson – 6’2”, 202, Fr.
Most figured that Ryan Mallett would take the starting job with ease, but redshirt freshman Tyler Wilson is making his case.
Wilson, who was granted a medical redshirt after mononucleosis sidelined him for most of 2008, impressed offensive coordinator Paul Petrino with his performance in the spring game.
Yet, Mallet – a former five-star prospect and the No. 2 ranked quarterback in the country - is the big name, and the sophomore transferred from Ann Arbor with the idea that he would be given the ball when Dick departed.
Michael Smith – 5’7”, 176, Sr.
Dennis Johnson – 5’7”, 200, So.
Michael Smith led the way last fall, and the senior is expected to do the same this season. The Tallahassee-native is coming off the first 1,000-yard performance of his career, and all signs point to him repeating the feat.
Behind Smith is a pair of experienced backs and a pair of newcomers. Dennis Johnson and Brandon Barnett are back, while freshmen Knile Davis and Ronnie Wingo hope to make an impact off of big summer campaigns.
Health will be the key, as Smith (hamstring), Johnson (foot), Barnett (broken tibia) and Davis (ankle) all battled through injuries in the spring.
Wide Receivers and Tight End
Joe Adams – 5’11”, 177, So.
London Crawford – 6’2”, 204, Sr.
Jarius Wright – 5’10”, 174, So.
Carlton Salters – 5’11”, 195, Jr.
D.J. Williams – 6’2”, 251, Jr.
Tight end D.J. Williams is the impact player through the air, leading the team with 699 receiving yards and three touchdowns last fall. Though the Razorbacks have focused the offseason on improving his blocking, Williams should be able to pick up where he left off.
The junior’s supporting cast, made up of a handful of returning Razorbacks, should be improved.
London Crawford impressed during the back end of 2008, while Joe Adams and Jarius Wright each went over 300 receiving yards. Adams and Wright had the biggest spring showings of the bunch, so it goes without saying that Mallet and Wilson like where things stand.
Ray Dominguez – 6’4”, 239, Jr.
Mitch Petrus – 6’4”, 315, Sr.
Wade Grayson – 6’4”, 289, Jr.
Seth Oxner – 6’4”, 305, So.
DeMarcus Love – 6’5”, 305, Jr.
All-American center Jonathon Luigs is gone from the unit, which left Petrino looking for answers. Wade Grayson, who started at guard in 2008, got the call to fill the void. DeMarcus Love, who also started at guard in 2008, made the move to tackle – giving Petrino returning starters on both ends.
At guard, Mitch Petrus and Seth Oxner should get the start on the left and right side, respectively. Oxner is a newcomer, while Petrus is back to his 2007 starting spot after being ineligible last season.
Jake Bequette – 6’5”, 271, So.
Zach Stadther – 6’1”, 289, So.
Malcolm Sheppard – 6’2”, 280, Sr.
Adrian Davis – 6’4”, 250, Sr.
All the starters are back from 2008, which is music to defensive coordinator Willy Robinson’s ears. Adrian Davis and Jake Bequette – who combined for 88 tackles last season – are back on the ends.
In the middle, senior tackle Malcom Sheppard and Zach Stadther will get the starts, a tandem that combined for 125 stops in 2008.
Sheppard, the leader of the unit, has drawn plenty of praise from Petrino and staff for his performance this spring, and his development should set the tone for the side.
Freddy Burton – 6’2”, 227, Jr.
Wendel Davis – 6’1”, 222, Sr.
Jerry Franklin – 6’1”, 237, So.
The linebackers are also all returning starters, highlighted by Jerry Franklin – the team’s leading tackler (87) in 2008 – on the outside. Wendel Davis, who started in seven of the nine games he appeared in and logged 53 stops last fall, will keep his starting job on the inside.
The debate surrounds Freddy Burton, who is being pressed by sophomore Bret Harris to give up his starting spot. Harris had the big offseason, but Burton was the team’s third leading tackler in 2008.
Isaac Madison – 5’10”, 181, Jr.
Ramon Broadway – 5’9”, 191, Jr.
Jerico Nelson – 5’9”, 197, So.
Matt Harris – 6’2”, 190, Sr.
Isaac Madison is the only starter back to the unit, meaning that Willy Robinson will certainly have his focus on the secondary as fall camp begins. The Razorbacks allowed 31.2 points per game in 2008, and many times it was Arkansas’ passing defense that collapsed first.
Jerico Nelson and Matt Harris appear to be the starters at safety, though junior college transfers Anthony Leon and Rudell Crim could work their way into the lineup. Elton Ford, who started in all eight games he appeared in as a freshman, provides another option at the spot.
Ramon Broadway will join Madison at cornerback; a junior who logged six starts last fall before posting a strong spring showing.
Alex Tejada – 6’0”, 205, Jr.
Briton Forester – 5’10”, 185, Jr.
Alex Tejada’s 4-of-9 mark last fall – made worse by an 0-of-4 mark between 40-49 yards – will need to improve, and in a hurry. The junior has the leg, but will his mental side be on point?
At punter, the Razorbacks turn to Briton Forester, a junior college transfer who did not arrive with the team until August.