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2008 Arkansas Preview - Offense
Arkansas OG Mitch Petrus
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2006 CFN Arkansas
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.
Passing: Casey Dick
150-262, 1,695 yds, 18 TD, 10 INT
Rushing: Michael Smith
46 carries, 303 yds, 3 TD
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.