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2009 Arkansas Preview - Offense
Arkansas TE D.J. Williams
Arkansas TE D.J. Williams
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 17, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Arkansas Razorback Offense

Arkansas Razorbacks

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Arkansas Preview | 2009 Arkansas Offense
- 2009 Arkansas Defense | 2009 Arkansas Depth Chart
- 2008 Hog Preview | 2007 Hog Preview | 2006 Hog Preview
 

What you need to know:
The offense was trying to put square pegs into round holes as the dominant running offense under Houston Nutt tried to go to a more balanced attack. Big strides were made with an improved passing game that saw several young wide receivers get their feet wet to go along with the emergence of D.J. Williams as one of the nation's best tight ends. All the top targets are back, while the backfield is loaded with talented, quick runners led by 1,000-yard back Michael Smith, who might turn out to be the best in the SEC. The big problem in the transition was the line that was a turnstile in pass protection. Three starters return and Mitch Petrus is back at guard after missing all of last season, but if the front five isn't better, the offense won't be consistent even with the emerging stars at receiver and in the backfield. All eyes will be on the quarterback situation with Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett finally eligible and ready to go. He's not going to be a world-beater from day one, but in time, he should grow with the young receivers and become special if he's allowed to make mistakes early on.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Tyler Wilson
11-22, 69 yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Michael Smith
207 carries, 1,072 yds, 8 TD
Receiving: D.J. Williams
61 catches, 723 yds, 3 TD

Star of the offense: Senior RB Michael Smith
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore OG Grant Cook
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Joe Adams
Best pro prospect: Junior TE D.J. Williams
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Smith, 2) Williams, 3) Adams
Strength of the offense: Running back, Receivers
Weakness of the offense: Pass protection, Proven QB production

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: 6-7, 248-pound sophomore Ryan Mallett's journey to what could be a long career appears to have finally gotten its restart. After starting out his career at Michigan, where he saw a few starts and plenty of action in his true freshman campaign, completing 61-of-141 passes for 892 yards and seven scores, he left when Rich Rodriguez was hired and campaigned hard to be able to play for Arkansas last year. While he was denied, it turned out to be a good thing for the Hog program as now he has three more years of eligibility. Extremely strong with a big-time arm and tremendous size, he has all the throws in the book and the talent to eventually get paid a ton of money at the next level. Now he has to work on his consistency and he has to limit his mistakes after spraying the ball a bit too much this spring and throwing two picks in the spring game. Confidence isn't an issue and he'll let the down moments roll off his back.

Projected Top Reserves: While Ryan Mallett all but has the starting job wrapped up, Tyler Wilson is making it interesting. The 6-2, 180-pound redshirt freshman was an Arkansas high school superstar winning three state title and threw for almost 4,000 yards with 42 touchdowns as a senior. He doesn't have the arm of Mallett, but he's more mobile and could get the passing game going if thrown into the No. 1 role.

Redshirt freshman Jim Youngblood is the clear third man in the mix, but he has tremendous upside and could see work in blowouts. At 6-2 and 222 pounds he's a thick passer with a live arm, throwing for 5,562 yards and running for more than 1,600 yards. He's the best running quarterback on the roster and he can get the ball deep, too.

Watch Out For ... Wilson to be in the hunt for the starting job more than you might think. Mallett is the NFL-caliber bomber with the skills to grow into the job and be special, but Petrino has always liked productive gamers. Wilson doesn't have a real shot to win the starting job this summer, but that could change if Mallett struggles early this fall.
Strength
:
Arms. This isn't your older brother's Arkansas quarterbacks. Mallett is a pure bomber while Wilson and Youngblood can each throw. These are three accomplished high school passers with the résumés to show just how prepared they are for the spotlight.
Weakness
:
Experience. Yes, Mallett saw time in Ann Arbor and was solid, but being a full-time starter in the SEC is a whole new ballgame. Wilson and Youngblood were great in high school, but neither has seen a college snap.
Outlook: Mitch Mustain, the Dick brothers, Alex Mortensen, Matt Jones; Arkansas has had its share of name quarterbacks over the last few years, and now it has its super-recruit in Ryan Mallett, who could arguably called on of the top five pickups in America last year. Now he has to prove it on the field and he has to live up to the hype or else Tyler Wilson will be the starter and there will be a big-time, Mitch Mustain-like controversy.
Rating: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starters: He might only be 5-7 and 176 pounds, and he might have had a few problems staying on the field thanks to injuries and off-the-field issues, but senior Michael Smith is extremely tough and very dangerous. Never able to get out of the shadow of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, he did what he could when he got his chances producing several big plays. When he became the main man, he ran 207 times for 1,072 yards and eight scores, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, highlighted by a 192-yard day in the loss to Kentucky. Also a receiver, he finished second on the team with 32 catches for 298 yards and two scores. With his lightning quickness, combined with his hands and his toughness, he's a good all-around back for the offense to revolve around once he gets back healthy from a hamstring problem.

While the fullback isn't always needed or used in the Petrino offense, the Hogs have a good blocker in Van Sturmon, a possible tight end who started out his career as a linebacker and defensive end. The 6-2, 266-pound junior has moved around in five different spots, making three tackles last year, and now should be a major factor for the ground game.

Projected Top Reserves: At the moment, De'Anthony Curtis is the key backup behind Michael Smith, but he'll have plenty of competition for the job. The star recruit of last year averaged 10.4 yards per carry in his senior year of high school and was considered one of the five best prospects to come out of Arkansas. He got in a little bit of work with 76 yards on 23 carries, but he didn't do too much with his opportunities. At 5-10 and 211 pounds he's a bigger back than Smith, and he can catch making eight grabs for 68 yards.

Ready to make a huge impact is Broderick Green, a 6-1, 242-pound inside runner who transferred from USC and should be the team's pounder. He had a good spring and should see a big role when the team is looking for a bigger back in the equation. When all is said and done, he could finish second on the team in rushing.

Lost in the shuffle is Dennis Johnson, a 5-7, 200-pound scat back who started in two games and finished second on the team with 184 yards and a score. He made his biggest impact as a kickoff returner, averaging 22.1 yards per try and setting the school record for kickoff return yards in a season. He ran for 127 yards in the win over LSU and showed he could produce when called upon, but he'll have to fight for playing time this year.

5-7, 209-pound senior Brandon Barnett came over from Butler Country CC, where he was a superstar at the JUCO level, and got in a little work two years ago rushing for 136 yards and a score. He was fourth on the team in rushing last year with 61 yards and a score, getting most of his work in in the loss to South Carolina. He won't get a lot of work, ,and he has to return healthy after missing spring ball, but he's a quick back who could handle being part of a rotation.

While Van Stumon is the blocking fullback, Mitchell Bailey is the runner and receiver. The 5-11, 221-pound sophomore is a decent blocker, but he's not nearly as big as Stumon and is quicker and far more athletic. He has better hands. 

Watch Out For ... Green. While he's not going to push Smith out of a starting spot, with his bulk and his speed for his size, he provides a different option than all the scat backs currently in the mix.
Strength
:
Quickness. While there might not be Darren McFadden/Felix Jones speed across the board, Smith can fly and the other backs have no problems getting through a hole. There are enough options for form a good rotation and use in a variety of ways.
Weakness
: The line. Smith was an All-SEC-caliber performer, but the Hogs still finished 97th in the nation in rushing and netted just 3.6 yards per carry with a mere 13 scores. While a slew of sacks were the problem for the rushing total, the line didn't do enough to open holes.
Outlook: Could the running game overcome the loss of McFadden and Jones? No, but it wasn't the fault of the backs as Michael Smith, Dennis Johnson and De'Anthony Curtis didn't get a whole bunch of room to run through. The addition of Broderick Green will help with the power, while there are more than enough good talents to expect far more production.
Rating: 7.5

Receivers

Projected Starters: While the receiving corps should be better in the second year under Petrino, the team's best receiver is future NFL starting tight end D.J. Williams. A big-time talent with all the skills, the junior is a Mackey Award semifinalist who led the Hogs with 61 catches for 723 yards and three touchdowns. At 6-2 and 251 pounds, it would be nice if he was a bit taller and wasn't built like a fullback, but he's a fantastic route runner with deep speed and consistent hands. He'll be more than just a safety valve; he'll be a go-to target.

The team's rising star is Joe Adams, a 5-11, 177-pound sophomore who only started in seven games but finished third on the team with 31 catches for 377 yards and a score. He's a do-it-all playmaker who mostly starred as a corner in high school, but he also did a little of everything as a runner and a receiver, too. He got a few carries last season, running six times for 46 yards, but he'll shine as a receiver after coming up with a fantastic spring

Senior London Crawford was a big-play target under Houston Nutt, averaging 23.4 yards per catch in 2006 and 18.4 yards per catch in 2007, but he was limited a bit as a junior catching just 27 passes for 311 yards and a touchdown averaging 11.5 yards per grab. He has had a few minor injury issues over the years, but he has the speed to get deep and the 6-2, 204-pound size to fight for the ball.

Ready to become a major factor is Jarius Wright, a 5-10, 174-pound sophomore who had a great spring and should be devastating when he gets the ball on the move. He got seven starts as a true freshman and was a big-play target averaging 18.3 yards per catch with 19 grabs for 348 yards and a score. He came up with a 70-yard scoring play against South Carolina and a 46-yarder against LSU, and he's just scratching the surface.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Lucas Miller was a starter in six games but was out this spring with a knee injury. The 6-3, 204-pounder was fourth on the team with 30 catches for 490 yards and two touchdowns and has the size and athleticism to be a killer in single coverage. Now he has to be more consistent. Ten of his grabs, with 201 yards and a score, came in the loss to Mississippi State.

6-3, 204-pound sophomore Greg Childs is coming off a great offseason and he could push London Crawford for a spot. He came up big in his freshman year making 18 catches for 273 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 15.2 yards per catch, but he did most of his work on opening day with six grabs for 88 yards and a score against Western Illinois. He'll do a lot more this year.

There's no question that D.J. Williams is the team's starting tight end, and the main weapon, but Ben Cleveland is a good No. 2 option who should be used more in the passing game after catching one pass for a one-yard touchdown to beat Mississippi State. At 6-4 and 249 pounds, he's a good blocker.

Watch Out For ... the sophomores. The receivers weren't the main stars in the passing game with Williams and RB Michael Smith the top two receivers. However, Adams, Childs, and Wright are about to become a special trio that matures at the same time in the Hog passing attack.
Strength: Experience and potential. Everyone is back. Including Smith, the top seven receivers from last year return and there are other good prospects waiting to do more. Williams might be the nation's best tight end, or is at least in the top three, while the young receivers are about to blow up.
Weakness
:
Consistency. That should come with age and a bit more experience, but the Hogs were all over the place when it came to production. The quarterback play will be fine, and while the line will still struggle in pass protection, the receivers have to do a bit more now that the corps has a year of experience under Petrino.
Outlook: After finishing 112th in the nation in passing in 2007, and rightfully so considering the backfield and the running game the team had, the Hogs were second in the SEC and 23rd in the nation averaging 260 yards per game even though there wasn't any pass protection. Now the receiving corps should blow up with everyone back including D.J. Williams, a special tight end, and a slew of gamebreaking sophomore receivers. Once QB Ryan Mallett figures out what he's doing, the receiving corps will be unstoppable.
Rating: 8

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: The biggest loss from the offensive front is Jonathan Luigs, the 2007 Rimington Award winner as the nation's best center. Looking to take over is Wade Grayson, the team's most versatile blocker who started every game last year at weak guard (the left side) and could play tackle if needed. The 6-4, 289-pounder is just tough enough and experienced enough to be a good quarterback, but he's not going to be Luigs.

With Grayson moving one spot over, sophomore Grant Cook will get the first shot at left guard. While he wasn't a star this spring, he has 6-4, 322-pound size and a little bit of experience, starting four times in the middle of the season. He'll be given a shot to improve and grow into the role, he needs to shine early on to hold off other promising options.

Back at left tackle is junior Ray Dominguez, a 6-4, 329-pound pounder who struggled in the transition in the new offense. A great run blocker in his six games of work in 2007, he started ten times last year and was great at times for the ground game but wasn't consistent in pass protection. He has the length and the experience to be better, but he'll have to do more against the faster speed rushers.

6-5, 305-pound junior DeMarcus Love is more of a guard than a tackle, but he'll be moved to the outside after starting eight times at right guard. The team's most experienced lineman with 14 starts and 20 appearances, and now he'll have to prove he can be consistent in pass protection. Last year's starter Jose Valdez struggled too often, and Love can't be much worse when if comes to keeping the quarterback clean.

With Love moving over, 6-4, 315-pound senior Mitch Petrus will step in at strong guard, the right side. Mostly a huge fullback and tight end so far, the former walk-on moved to guard after beefing up over the last few years, but he's been out of action after missing all of last year with a toe injury. He's a good athlete who can blast away for the running game and should be decent against the stronger interior pass rushers. He'll be fine.

Projected Top Reserves: Able to play tackle or guard, 6-5, 319-pound senior Michael Aguirre will work where needed. Solid at either spot, he'll start out behind Mitch Petrus on the right side after starting two times at weak tackle. He was starting when the passing game rocked for 385 yards against Tulsa.

At 6-7 and 289 pounds, sophomore Grant Freeman has the length to lock on to pass rusher with the long arms to keep them at bay. He has a little bit of playing time filling in for three games in the rotation at left tackle. Now he'll be the main man behind Ray Dominguez and could see time on the other side if needed..

Watch Out For ... the left guard battle. Cook has the size and experience to have the job by default going into the summer, but 6-4, 305-pound sophomore Seth Oxner could take the job if he rocks just before the start of the season. Both were mediocre this spring, and it's the one job that's open.
Strength
:
Size. This was a line put together to pound away for the Houston Nutt running game, and it's huge. Grayson is 289 pounds in the middle, but the other four projected starters combine to average around 315 pounds. They'll blast away for the ground attack, but ...
Weakness
:
Pass protection. There was a reason the 2007 line was so great in sacks allowed. The offense wasn't geared around throwing the ball, but that wasn't the only reason last year's line finished next-to-last in America giving up 46 sacks. This isn't a line built for a high-octane passing attack, and there will be a lot of tweaking done.
Outlook: All the other parts of the equation fit, but the line needs to be night-and-day more consistent for the passing game to work. The running game struggled, too, even though Michael Smith ran for 1,072 yards. Three starters are back with Petrus a good one to fill in at guard. The big question will be at left guard, the weak guard spot, but more production is needed from all five spots. This will be an improved line, but not an elite one by any stretch.
Rating: 6.5