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2008 Arkansas Preview - Offense
Arkansas OG Mitch Petrus
Arkansas OG Mitch Petrus
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 11, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Arkansas Razorback Offense

Arkansas Razorbacks

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Arkansas Preview | 2008 Arkansas Offense
- 2008 Arkansas Defense | 2008 Arkansas Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Arkansas Preview | 2006 CFN Arkansas Preview 

What you need to know:
Just imagine what might have been. Had everyone stuck around and if Bobby Petrino was the coach, Arkansas could've had now-USC Trojan Mitch Mustain at quarterback, Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in the backfield, and star receiver prospect Damian Williams as the main target. The O could've been special, but as is it might not be all that bad if QB Casey Dick is as good as he was this spring. There will still be a running game, but it's not going to be nearly as effective with Michael Smith and true freshman De'Anthony Curtis replacing McFadden and Jones. On the plus side, the line should be fantastic with Rimington Award winning center Jonathan Luigs and guard Mitch Petrus paving the way. The receiving corps is promising, and tight end D.J. Williams will be a breakout star, but it'll need time to become consistent.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Casey Dick
150-262, 1,695 yds, 18 TD, 10 INT
Rushing: Michael Smith
46 carries, 303 yds, 3 TD
Receiving:
Lucas Miller
12 catches, 157 yds, 3 TD

Star of the offense: Senior C Jonathan Luigs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior QB Casey Dick
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE D.J. Williams
Best pro prospect: Luigs
Top three all-star candidates: 1)
Luigs, 2) OG Mitch Petrus, 3) Williams
Strength of the offense: Line, the coaches
Weakness of the offense: Proven skill players, no McFadden or Jones

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Senior Casey Dick completed 57% of his passes last year for 1,695 yards and 18 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. Basically, he handed the ball off a lot. While he had his moments, like a deadly-efficient 14-of-17, 199-yard, four touchdown game in the win over Mississippi State, he's hardly the type of quarterback to build a passing game around. At least, that was the belief, and then he was fantastic this off-season finishing up with a 404-yard day in the spring game. At 6-2 and 215 pounds, he's not all that big, but he has a nice arm and has been through the SEC wars. He's not going to be asked to throw 50 times a game, but he has good short to midrange accuracy and proved that he might be one of the league's breakout passers.

Projected Top Reserves: Not yet. Next year, 6-6, 255-pound Ryan Mallett will be the starter and will instantly go from being a one-time star recruit to an elite pro prospect under Petrino's tutelage. After starting out his career at Michigan, he transferred once Rich Rodriguez was hired. After petitioning the NCAA to be eligible this season, he was denied and will have to sit out. He got some work in this, but he suffered an injured thumb.

Casey's brother, Nathan Dick, will go into the year as the backup. He hasn't seen any meaningful time yet, but he's a good, smart prospect who at 6-4, 217 pounds is bigger than his brother. The redshirt freshman isn't going to run much, but he's not immobile. He's a deadly accurate pro-style passer who won't just hand the reins over to Mallett next year without a fight.

6-2, 220-pound junior Alex Mortensen, son of ESPN's terrific NFL analyst, Chris, started out his career at Arkansas, left for Samford once it became apparent that Mitch Mustain was going to be the star, and then came back and sat out last year. A very smart pro-style passer, he still needs reps and some game action, but he's been good in the new offense when he has had the chance.

Watch Out For ... a stunning transformation of Casey Dick. Painful to watch at times as a sophomore, particularly in the 2006 LSU game when he completed just three of 17 passes for 29 yards, he appears to be in total command now that the offense is his. He'll blossom under the Petrino brothers.
Strength
:
The coaching staff. This is a great group of coaches who knows how to get production out of the quarterback. NFL hopefuls are now going to want to play in Fayetteville.
Weakness
:
Proven consistency. Sure, the quarterbacks looked great in spring practices, but the Arkansas defensive back seven was undergoing a complete overhaul. Dick has to show he can be the man game in and game out.
Outlook: At some point this year, Mitch Mustain will be on the USC sidelines thinking about what might have been had he stayed at Arkansas. As is, Casey Dick appears to be more than ready for the added responsibility, while the offense can get by with Nathan Dick or Mortensen running the attack. While it would've been nice to have had the option of using Mallett, the year to learn and improve in the system should make him a big-time producer in 2009.
Rating: 6.5


Running Backs

Projected Starters: No one's asking Michael Smith to be Darren McFadden or Felix Jones, but he can be a very good, very productive big-play back. The 5-7, 173-pound junior isn't built to handle a big workload, but he has tremendous speed and big-time pop averaging 7.1 yards per carry two years ago and 6.6 yards per run last year with 303 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by an 81-yard scoring dash against FIU. He has decent enough hands to be used more in the passing game after catching four passes for 65 yards.

Projected Top Reserves: The new offense isn't going to do away with the fullback entirely, but the role will be greatly diminished. Forget about replacing Peyton Hillis, the team's leading receiver and third leading rusher, and no one's going to try. Senior Lance Thompson is a 6-4, 227-pound tight end who'll see time in the backfield as a blocker, but will also be used in the passing game in the tight end rotation.

Considering Smith's size, he'll need help. Coming in is star recruit De'Anthony Curtis, a 5-10, 205-pound speed back who averaged 10.4 yards per carry in his senior year and was considered one of the top five prospects in the state of Arkansas by just about everyone. At 5-10 and 205 pounds, he's a bigger option than Smith.

5-10, 206-pound junior Brandon Barnett got in a little bit of work last year rushing for 136 yards with a touchdown, seeing most of his action against North Texas. The former star JUCO transfer is extremely strong and very fast, winning the Arkansas state title in the 100 meters as a junior in high school.

Thompson might not be much of a blocking fullback, but 5-11, 217-pound junior John Durmon is one, even at his size. The transfer from Arkansas Tech is mostly a special teamer who can be used to hit a little bit in the running game.

Watch Out For ... Smith to run for 1,000 yards. Petrino gets plenty of production out of his backs, and while McFadden and Jones might be gone, the ground game will still be solid. Smith should put up some gaudy numbers.
Strength
:
Speed. There's a drop-off in speed with the two stars gone, but not a huge one. Smith and Thompson can move. Curtis is hardly slow.
Weakness
:
Proven production. Smith has to prove he can be a consistent back, while Curtis and Durmon will need time to get used to being in the system.
Outlook: You don't get better by losing all-timer talents like McFadden and Jones, who combined for 2,992 and 27 touchdowns last season, but the Hog running game isn't going to stink. Smith can tear off a home run any time he touches the ball, Curtis is promising and Barnett is a good talent. This won't be the nation's fourth-best rushing attack, and it won't lead the SEC again, but it'll be productive.
Rating: 7

Receivers

Projected Starters: For the Petrino offense to work, he needs his receivers to come through. Sophomore Marques Wade is a 6-3, 192-pound speedster on the outside, but he hasn't produced. He would've seen time as a true freshman, but he had problems with a toe injury. After being a star on the scout team, he never got going seeing time in a few games with no catches. He has the size and the wheels, but he has to be more physical and he needs more polish. 

6-2, 200-pound junior London Crawford has been a big-play target averaging 23.4 yards per catch two years ago and 18.4 yards per grab last year. He has had a few minor injury problems, but he was healthy enough to start in six games last year making eight catches for 147 yards and a score. A physical receiver, he'll fight for the ball.

Sophomore Carlton Salters could be a breakout player with the toughness to take shots over the middle and good quickness. One of the stars of the spring, the 6-0, 191-pounder looked like a possible No. 1 target who could do a little of everything inside and out. He made four grabs for 38 yards last year.

The team's best receiving option will likely be 6-2, 250-pound sophomore D.J. Williams, a big-time talent who looked like a future star this spring. He caught five passes for 94 yards last year as a true freshman, but he's finally in an offense better suited for his skills. While he's a great blocker, he has the hands and the deep speed to be the go-to target in the passing game.

Projected Top Reserves: True freshman Joe Adams might be starting from day one. The 6-0, 175-pounder was an excellent high school corner who was also used as a runner and return man, but he'll be a game-breaker of a receiver sooner than later. The coaching staff will find a variety of ways to use him.

5-10, 170-pound Jarius Wright is another true freshman who should make a big impact. Like Adams, he was used to do a little of everything as a runner and a receiver, but he's the more accomplished pass catcher making 58 grabs for 1,350 yards and 15 touchdowns last year. While he's not all the big, he's lightning-quick.

Working behind Salters will be 6-3, 201-pound junior Lucas Miller, a good veteran who caught 12 passes for 157 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 13.1 yards per catch. He has good athleticism to go along with his size, but he can't catch on a consistent basis.

Senior Reggie Fish is more of a returner than a receiver, but he didn't do much of either last year. He has the game-breaking quickness, but at only 5-7 and 160 pounds, he needs to get in space to be productive. He played in every game last year and got two starts finishing with nine catches for 65 yards.

While Williams appears to be the new star tight end, 6-5, 266-pound junior Andrew Davie isn't far behind. The starter for most of last year, he made 14 catches for 115 yards and three touchdowns. A big blocker who can surprise defenses when he gets off the line, he'll be a regular in two tight end sets.

Watch Out For ... Williams. Salters might be the best new weapon on the scene, but it's Williams who'll be a fan favorite. He's the one the passing game will go to on key plays.
Strength
:
The coaching staff. The passing game was an afterthought, and often a liability, under Houston Nutt, but now it'll be at the forefront. It's not going to be all fireworks and big numbers right away, but Petrino knows how to get the ball moving.
Weakness
:
Sure-thing receivers. The top four receivers from last year are gone, and three of them were running backs. The system will produce more for the passing game, but the receivers could be maddeningly inconsistent at times.
Outlook: The passing game went from lousy to non-existent, finishing 112th in the nation, and with a backfield like the 2007 Hogs had, why not? That'll change, and while the attack will be less efficient than it was last season, it'll be far more productive. The receivers have to step up and produce now that they're in the spotlight. Williams will be a good one, and Salters has excellent potential, but to go from good to great, the true freshmen have to be the real deal.
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: Senior Jonathan Luigs could've been off early to the NFL, but he chose to come back for his senior year after winning the Rimington Award as the nation's best center. The 6-4, 314-pounder is more like a guard snapping the ball, and he's the perfect quarterback for an occasionally dominant front line. He's big, strong, and a technician for the ground game, and his return is invaluable as it'll help stabilize the line in the new scheme.

Luigs will be an NFL starter, but senior Mitch Petrus could be the better prospect. The 6-4, 305-pound left guard started out his career as a walk-on tight end and fullback, and now he has found his home having beefed up big-time over the last few seasons. He's a physical blocker who proved he could handle himself.

The other returning starter is senior Jose Valdez at right tackle. The 6-5, 313-pounder started last year at left tackle in place of all-star Tony Ugoh, and while he could move back if needed, he'll be the man on the other side. Banged up with an ankle injury at times, he missed a few games, but he's a good pass protector who grew into the job.

6-4, 315-pound sophomore Ray Dominguez will work at left tackle after seeing a little time in six games. While he's a decent run blocker, he's an exception pass protector for his his size. Working next to Petrus, he'll get time to work into his role as a more dominant pounder for the ground game.

Sophomore DeMarcus Love could be one of the new stars as he steps in at right guard. He has as much talent and as big an upside as anyone on the line, but now he has to prove he can be a consistent blocker. He stepped in and started late in the year against LSU and Missouri and was solid.

Projected Top Reserves: While Valdez is a good one at right tackle, 6-6, 315-pound junior Michael Aguirre will be pushing hard for a starting spot. Able to play guard if needed, Aguirre is a natural tackle who saw just enough time last year to be considered an experienced reserve for several spots on the line.

6-4, 292-pound sophomore Wade Grayson will start out at right guard working behind Love, but he's the line's most versatile player with the ability to play center, which he worked at a bit this off-season, and could move to tackle if needed. He's more of a guard, even though he's not huge, and he'll see plenty of action at several spots.

Watch Out For ... the redshirt freshmen. They came to Arkansas ready to be road graders for the running game, and now they'll have to tweak their games. 333-pound Kareem Crowell is a promising guard behind Petrus, 320-pound Grant Cook will work with Dominguez at left tackle, and 300-pound Seth Oxner is the understudy behind Luigs at center.
Strength
:
Production. Even with several new starters in place, last year's line paved the way for the nation's fourth best running game and finished fifth in the nation in sacks allowed, giving up just 13. Three very good starters are returning, and the two new ones are excellent.
Weakness
:
The old system. There's a reason the running game was so good, McFadden and Jones, and there's a reason there weren't many sacks, 313 pass attempts. This is a good line with excellent talents, but how quickly can it adapt without the stars in the backfield?
Outlook: The line was fantastic two years ago, had to rebuild from near-scratch, was better, and now has to do some more tweaking. Luigs and Petrus are great ones to build around, and Valdez is solid. There's plenty of size, good young backups, and enough returning talent to allow the skill players time to figure out what they're doing.
Rating: 8.5