Arkansas Preview 2006 - Offense
Arkansas Razorbacks
Posted Aug 8, 2006

Arkansas Razorbacks Preview 2006 - Arkansas Offense

What you need to know ...
New offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was brought in to pump some more life into the offense, and to help land top quarterback prospect Mitch Mustain. The passing game will be better if Mustain starts or redshirts, but the real focus will continue to be on one of the nation's best running games. Five players with starting experience return to the line to lead the way for the tremendous backfield of Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, and fullback Peyton Hillis. Expect more balance and even a few three-wide sets to open things up a bit as long as a steady starting quarterback emerges.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Robert Johnson
89-158, 876 yds, 5 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: Darren McFadden
176 carries, 1,113 yds, 11 TD
Peyton Hillis
38 catches, 402 yds, 4 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore RB Darren McFadden
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB Casey Dick
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman RB Michael Smith
Best pro prospect: McFadden
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McFadden, 2) RB Felix Jones, 3) OT Zac Tubbs
Strength of the offense: Running back
Weakness of the offense:
Number two receiver next to Marcus Monk

Considering the passing game was one of the worst in America, the situation appears to be a major plus with two experienced veterans and a superstar on the horizon in Mitch Mustain. Will the coaching staff throw its NFL-caliber recruit to the wolves right away, or will it try to go with Casey Dick and Robert Johnson for another year and put off the future for a season? The one with the best grasp of the new offense will get the starting nod; that might be Mustain.
The key to the unit: Efficiency. Not only did Hog quarterbacks not throw for many yards, the pitched way too many interceptions and didn't push the ball deep enough.
Quarterback Rating: 6.5

Projected Starter

- Robert Johnson, Jr. - 89-158, 56%, 876 yds, 5 TD, 6 INT, 27 carries, 20 yds
Johnson is the team's leading returning passer and, at times, appeared to be the best quarterback in spring ball following up an inconsistent year. Even so, it'll be a shock if he wins the starting job. He finished the spring session as the team's steadiest quarterback with a good grasp of the new offense, but he had a hard time leading the team to wins. To be fair, he had to go against most of the monsters on the slate like USC, Alabama, Auburn and Georgia.

Top Backups
- Casey Dick, Soph. - 53-99, 54%, 584 yds, 7 TD, 4 INT
Dick turned into a big of a playmaker over the final four games of his true freshman season looking strong enough to possible get the number one job coming into the season. He's buying time until Mitch Mustain takes over, either this year or next year. At 6-2 and 211 pounds, he has good size and a nice arm, but he's not going to run for much and struggled at times this spring.

- Mitch Mustain, Fr.
In a year full of superstar quarterback recruits, Mustain stood out. He's 6-3, 205 pounds, has a rocket for an arm, and runs a 4.7 40. Part of one of the nation's most heated recruiting battles, the 6-3, 205-pound NFL prospect finally picked Arkansas and is supposed to lead the program to glory. Knowing the offense isn't an issue since his high school coach, Gus Malzahn, is the new offensive coordinator, and he's by far the most talented passer on the roster. While he has said all the right things about possibly redshirting, he'll get every shot to win the job right off the bat.
- Alex Mortensen, Soph. - 6-17, 35, 63 yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
The son of ESPN NFL analyst Chris Mortensen will probably be lost in the shuffle. A nice recruit for the program last year, he saw a little bit of mop up time playing mostly in the disaster against USC. He didn't get all the same chances the other quarterbacks got in spring ball, and now he'll be in a big-time battle for a reserve spot with Mitch Mustain entering the picture.

Running Backs
The nation's best young backfield appears to be on the verge of becoming unstoppable. Darren McFadden and Felix Jones are lightning fast home-run hitters with the hands to be used at wide receiver if needed. Fullback Peyton Hillis led the team in receiving last season and will see time as a power runner. If that wasn't enough, cut-on-a-dime quick Michael Smith is back after being hurt last year.
The key to the unit: Keep progressing. There's enough talent to form a good rotation and keep the ground game going even if injuries strike.
Running Back Rating: 10

Projected Starter
- Darren McFadden, Soph. - 176 carries, 1,113 yds, 6.3 ypc, 11 TD, 14 catches, 52 yds, 3.7 ypc
McFadden exploded onto the scene taking over the star role early on and finished with five 100-yard games in his final seven outings. At 6-2 and 210 pounds, he can run with power and has an extra gear that makes him one of the SEC's premier home run hitters. If that wasn't enough, he proved this spring that he has the hands to be used more in the passing game. There's a chance he'll see a little time at wide receiver in certain formations; he's that good and that versatile.

- Fullback Peyton Hillis, Jr. - 65 carries, 315 yds, 4.8 ypc, 3 TD, 38 catches, 402 yds, 10.6 ypc, 4 TD
The 6-2, 233-pound junior showed off his power running skills in the opener last season tearing off 135 yards and three touchdowns against Murray State, and then he became a steady receiver finishing as the team's top pass catcher. On offense, he'll mostly be used in short-yardage situations and be a key blocker for the star tailbacks, but he'll really surprise as a punt returner.

Top Backups
- Felix Jones, Soph. - 99 carries, 626 yds, 6.3 ypc, 3 TD, 8 catches, 100 yds, 12.5 ypc
While Jones had a nice true freshman season finishing second on the team in rushing highlighted by two 100-yard games, he made his mark as a kick returner earning All-America honors averaging a whopping 31.9 yards per try with a 100-yard return for a score against Mississippi State. He's a bolt of lightning out of the backfield and will be used more in the passing game.
- Michael Smith, RFr.
A good all-around prospect who's strong for his 5-7, 169-pound size, he'll be used mostly in mop-up duty for the running game. He was right in the hunt for playing time as a true freshman before he got hurt, and now he'll see time as a receiver as well as a third down back to get his quickness on the field.
- Fullback Farod Jackson, Jr.
More of a true fullback than Peyton Hillis, Jackson will be use as a blocker and as a special teamer. At 244 pounds, he's bigger than Hillis, but he'll have to hold off Kyle Payne for time.

Consider the Hog receiving corps the X factor. Most of the key players were dinged up in spring ball and didn't get enough time to work in the new offense, and they also didn't get a chance to shine much last year with all the inconsistency at quarterback. 6-6 Marcus Monk is the best of the bunch with good hands and enough speed to pose major matchup problems. The rest of the corps is serviceable, so there's an opening for young players like Rod Coleman and John Aaron Rees to step up and star if Reggie Fish and Chris Baker aren't great. All will get a chance in three and four wide sets. The tight ends are big and physical, but they haven't been used much as receivers. That'll likely chance early on.
The key to the unit: Everyone has to stay healthy and be explosive enough that the star running backs don't have to moonlight at receiver.
Receiver Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- Marcus Monk, Jr. - 35 catches, 476 yds, 13.6 ypc, 7 TD
The team's leader in receiving yards and touchdown catches has the talent to be a star number one receiver if the quarterbacks can get him the ball. He came on late last year with the emergence of Casey Dick, and should shine with the new offense ready to use his skills more. He's 6-6, 227 pounds, and strong. Now he has to stay healthy after missing time this spring with a groin injury.

- Cedric Washington, Sr. - 27 catches, 365 yds, 13.5 ypc, 1 TD
Washington spent last year as the team's number two wide receiver, but he'll have work to do to keep the job with plenty of young talent waiting in the wings. He was steady, but not explosive with most of his production coming over the final four games. He has the speed to be used as a kick returner if needed.

- Tight end Wes Murphy, Sr. - 1 catch, 17 yds
Murphy had the best spring of the group and will tentatively have a hold onto the starting job going into the season. He hasn't been able to stay healthy, but the 6-3, 265-pound senior is the most consistent blocker when he's able to stay on the field.

Top Backups
- Reggie Fish, Soph. - 1 catch, 5 yds
Fast enough to push for time as a punt returner, the 5-7, 154-pound sophomore will do most of his work as a quick third option for the passing game. He was dinged up this spring and didn't get a chance to fully make a claim for a spot, but he'll be part of the rotation at flanker behind Cedric Washington.
- Chris Baker, Jr.
Baker missed all of last year with a knee injury but will be back healthy this fall to be the main backup behind Marcus Monk. He's 6-1, 202 pounds, and fast enough to be a dangerous deep threat. He averaged 23.7 yards per catch in 2004 on nine grabs.
- Tight end Mason Templeton, Jr. - 3 catches, 33 yds
A bit bigger than Wes Murphy, the 6-7, 270-pound junior is an improving blocker who'll see a few catches come his way. He'll see plenty of action in two tight end sets if he can hold off Marc Winston.

Offensive Linemen
The line gets five starters back even with the loss of center Kyle Roper thanks to the return of star tackle Zac Tubbs. Run blocking isn't an issue for the veteran group, but the big hogs will have to learn how to pass protect on a consistent basis. Jonathan Luigs is a rising star at center, while tackle Tony Ugoh and guards Robert Felton and Stephen Parker as rock-solid. There's enough depth to create a solid two-deep rotation.
The key to the unit: If the line pass blocks almost as well as it run blocks, it'll be among the best in the SEC.
Offensive Line Rating: 8.5

Projected Starters
- OT Tony Ugoh, Sr.
The 6-5, 304-pound senior is back for the third straight season on the left side of the line. A steady starter and an emerging pass blocker, his real talent is as a run blocker. Along with being one of the team's best offensive linemen, he's also a track star in the hammer and discus throws causing him to miss time in spring drills.  
- OG Stephen Parker, Sr.
A tremendous run blocker, the 6-4, 310-pound senior has gone from being a walk-on to a fringe All-SEC candidate. He's a technically sound player who's as tough as nails.
- C Jonathan Luigs, Soph.
Luigs saw time as a starter at both right guard and center, and now will take over the full-time job in the middle from Kyle Roper. He played like a seasoned veteran as a freshman and has the potential to been an All-SEC performer if he keeps progressing and can prove he can be a stronger pass blocker.
- OG Robert Felton, Jr.
Felton started every game at right tackle last season where he was dominant in the ground game. Now he'll move to guard with the return of Zac Tubbs where he's a more natural fit.
- OT Zac Tubbs, Sr.
Back after missing almost all of last year with an ankle injury, the 6-6, 335-pound senior should be one of the league's best all-around tackles. He's big enough to play guard, but if his agility is back, he's too valuable at right tackle to move.

Top Backups

- C Jeremy Harrell, Sr.
Able to play guard or center, the former defensive lineman will be a physical blocker behind Jonathan Luigs in the middle. He started last season at defensive tackle and ended up at guard.
- OG Mitch Petrus, Soph.
Wile not the monster presence most of the rest of the linemen are, the 6-5, 272-pound true sophomore proved last year he can be a strong reserve and could even step into the starting role for a little while. He'll play behind Robert Felton on the right side.

- O
G Chase Pressley. Sr.
A career reserve, the 308-pound senior saw little time at guard last year and will backup Stephen Parker on the left side.

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