Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Arkansas.
Spring Practice Starts: March 14
Spring Game: April 21
Returning starters: 7 offensive, 6 defensive, 2 specialists
Three Things To Look For:
1. So ... who's playing wide receiver, exactly? Narrowly missing out on the nation's No. 1 recruit is never easy. But in the case of Arkansas and five-and-a-half star receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, it might sting even more than usual--Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs are all departed, taking with them 2,009 yards of receiving in 2011 alone. Bobby Petrino's masterful recruiting at the position means that the depth chart at wideout still isn't exactly barren; Cobi Hamilton finished with 542 yards himself, and freshman Marquel Wade showed flashes of potential in limited snaps. But there's no team in the FBS that can withstand the loss of three different future NFL receivers and not feel it; Petrino himself said spring ball without the trio would be "weird." If Hamilton doesn't show continued progress, or Wade or one of the other young receivers doesn't emerge as a second viable option, Petrino may end up with some much harsher words for the situation.
2. Alonzo Highsmith: still healthy, right? Much like Hamilton may be the linchpin keeping the wide receiving corps intact for the Hogs , so Highsmith appears to be the key for an overhauled linebacking corps that has lost long-time stars Jerry Franklin and Jerico Nelson. Despite the presence of that pair, though, Highsmith still racked up 80 tackles -- third on the team behind Franklin and graduated safety Tramain Thomas -- and led the Hogs with 12.5 tackles. With defensive end Jake Bequette -- the team's most viable pass-rushing threat -- also gone, Highsmith's ability to penetrate and disrupt is going to be even more critical. Tyler Wilson is the player the Hogs can least afford to lose to a spring-time injury, but Highsmith is likely the clear runner-up.
UPDATE, 4:45 p.m. ET: Uh-oh: just as we post this, Arkansas announces Highsmith will miss the entire spring with a pectoral injury. While the injury shouldn't affect his availability for fall camp, it certainly won't help Highsmith's efforts to establish himself as the focal point for the overhauled Hog defense.
3. How quickly can Paul Haynes get his defense's attention? Some of the juicier questions for the Hogs are on the offensive side of the ball -- Who's going to catch passes? Can Knile Davis be what he was in 2010? Is Wilson ready to mount a Heisman campaign? -- but the ones that matter the most for the team's final win-loss record might be on defense. After all, as long as Petrino's around, the offense is going to put up more than its fair share of points; the question is whether the Razorback D can void giving up just as many. That's why former Ohio State assistant Haynes is in Fayetteville, having replaced the exiled Willy Robinson on the heels of a disappointing 2011 for what was a veteran Hog unit. Haynes has a younger collection of players, but in players like Highsmith, end Tenarius Wright and corner Darius Winston, he's still got enough experience and talent to engineer an improvement. Spring will be Haynes' first chance to show he can do just that.
To check in on the rest of the SEC and other BCS conferences, check out the Spring Practice Schedule.
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