April 3, 2008

ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS
Head coach: Bobby Petrino
Last season: 8-5 overall, 4-4 in SEC; lost 38-7 to Missouri in the Cotton Bowl.
Spring practice: April 3-26.

Bobby Petrino is in, while Darren McFadden and Felix Jones are out. Will all the changes around the Arkansas campus cause an alteration in the Razorbacks' traditional run-oriented attack? We're about to find out.

ARKANSAS
Casey Dick will have to be more than a caretaker quarterback for the Razorbacks.

RETURNING STARTERS
Offense5: TE Andrew Davie, QB Casey Dick, C Jonathan Luigs, G Mitch Petrus, T Jose Valdez.
Defense4: E Adrian Davis, LB Freddie Fairchild (suspended indefinitely), T Ernest Mitchell, E Malcolm Sheppard.
Special teams2: P Jeremy Davis, K Alex Tejada.
EARLY ENROLLEES
None.

POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

The losses of two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up Darren McFadden and 1,000-yard rusher Felix Jones won't necessarily prevent Arkansas from running the ball effectively. Luigs anchors an offensive line that returns three starters and should rank among the SEC's best. The defensive line has three starters returning.

HELP IS NEEDED

Arkansas clearly has big shoes to fill at running back after McFadden and Jones decided to forgo their senior seasons. The Razorbacks also need to find some wide receivers. The Razorbacks are vulnerable in the secondary, where they lost all four starters from last season.

KEEP AN EYE ON

RB Chip Gregory: This former three-star prospect played a variety of positions at Carrollton (Texas) American Heritage Academy and was working out as a linebacker at Arkansas until new Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino recently moved him to running back. The 6-foot-3 Gregory could give Arkansas a bigger back to complement the small and speedy Michael Smith.

FS Walner Leandre: Leandre, a transfer from Blinn (Texas) College who will be a senior this fall, saw ample playing time in the Cotton Bowl last season and could shore up the secondary - where the Razorbacks could use an infusion of talent.

RB Michael Smith: He's the reason the Razorbacks are optimistic they can continue running the ball effectively even without McFadden and Jones. Size is a concern for the 5-foot-7 Smith, but he certainly has the speed to make an impact. Smith has a career average of 6.8 yards per carry while backing up McFadden and Jones the past two seasons.

HIS TIME IS NOW

Dick has struggled with inconsistency since regaining the starting job late in the 2006 season, and he must be more than a caretaker for the offense now that McFadden and Jones have departed. If Arkansas gets more stability at quarterback, the Razorbacks just might emerge as a major surprise this season. If Dick doesn't have a big senior year, Arkansas fans will spend much of the season counting the days until Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett becomes eligible.

THE BUZZ

Arkansas has ranked fourth in the nation in rushing in each of the past two seasons, but the arrival of new coach Bobby Petrino and the departures of McFadden and Jones probably means the Razorbacks will be more balanced on offense. Arkansas' chances of contending in the Western Division could depend on how well the Razorbacks make the transition.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.




 

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