Posted by Jerry Hinnen
College football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice. So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Nebraska , who opened spring camp on Saturday.
Spring Practice Question: There's no Ryan Mallett. So what is there, exactly?
We'll go ahead and spoil what we expect to be answer this spring: a whole heck of a lot.
But first, let's look at what the Razorbacks are missing without college football's most famous modified razor scooter -user. First and foremost, they'll be missing -- as Mallett himself said when asked how he'd respond to questions about his college career -- "seven thousand-plus yards and 60 touchdowns in two seasons." Those kind of numbers, and the attendant fear they (and Mallett's gatling-gun arm) put into the shell-shocked defenses he faced aren't easily replaced ... if they're replaced at all.
But it's possible that if the numbers and the arm strength aren't coming back, in ascendant junior Tyler Wilson the Hogs will welcome a few new things that even Mallett couldn't offer them. For all his intimidating talent, it's telling that Mallett summed up his resume for the pros with statistics rather than wins-and-losses or championships; while his two years were immensely successful both personally and from a team standpoint (the program's first-ever BCS bowl berth is nothing to sneeze at, to say the least), Mallett never did shake the nagging feeling from many observers he could have been even better than he was. In 2009, he pulverized the Eastern Michigans on the Hog schedule but too often tried to make the spectacular throw rather than the sensible one, resulting in a 39 percent combined completion rate in Arkansas's four games against ranked opponents (all losses). Mallett was much more consistent in 2010, but Hog fans still have to wonder: what if he hadn't had that three-interception meltdown at home against Alabama? What if the final throw of his college career hadn't been another game-ending boneheaded pick in the Sugar Bowl?
So what could Wilson offer that Mallett didn't? A little more poise down the stretch of big games, and maybe even a little more within-the-offense conservatism when necessary against deep coverage. It's worth remembering three other things in Wilson's favor here, too:
1. Bobby Petrino no doubt helped make Mallett the star he was, but he doesn't need an tree-sized, cannon-armed quarterback to be successful, as he proved with players like Stefan LeFors and Brian Brohm at Louisville;
2. Wilson looked outstanding in his one relief performance of Mallett last season, hitting 25-of-34 against Auburn for 332 yards and four touchdowns, nearly leading the Hogs out of a sizable deficit for what would have been a season-defining victory;
3. He won't have to carry the offense himself, and in fact won't have to carry much of it at all.
Per point No. 3, why not? Because in emerging workhorse running back Knile Davis (who topped 1,000 yards in the last nine games alone) and the senior wide receiving trio of Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, no quarterback in the SEC (and maybe the country) should receive more support from his fellow skill position players that Wilson. He doesn't have to be Mallett to replace him.
And while most of the attention from Razorback fans this spring will likely center on whether the offense keeps humming, the Arkansas defense could be preparing for its best season yet under Petrino. Linebackers Jerry Franklin and Jerico Nelson both return for their senior seasons after finishing 1-2 on the team in tackles and 1-3 in tackles-for-loss a year ago; end Jake Bequette dominated in flashes last year, totaled a team-leading seven sacks, and could be poised for an All-SEC season; and the safety-corner combo of Tramain Thomas and Darius Winston look ready to pick up where last year's tag-team of Ramon Broadway and Rudell Crim left off.
So: the defense should be better. The running game and the receivers are in place. Which will turn all eyes towards Wilson this spring to see if he can deliver on the promise he showed against Auburn. If he can, even the loss of a wunderkind like Mallett might not be the kind of blow his reputation the past two seasons suggested it would be.