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March 30, 2010

Arkansas eyes breakout season in 2010

Bobby Petrino looks primed for a breakout in his third season as Arkansas' coach.

Expect to see the Razorbacks ranked in most preseason top 25 polls. The reason for optimism centers on an offense that returns nine starters from an attack that ranked No. 3 overall (427.3 ypg), No. 1 in scoring (36.0 ppg) and No. 1 in passing (295.5 ypg) in the SEC.

But starting quarterback Ryan Mallett will miss the spring after breaking his left foot in conditioning drills. With Mallett out, the Hogs will work sophomore Tyler Wilson and redshirt freshman Brandon Mitchell a lot this spring.

Mallett is expected to be ready for the season, which is good. In his debut season after transferring from Michigan, Mallett led the SEC and set school records by throwing for 3,624 yards and 30 touchdowns. Mallett seriously considered turning pro after last season, and the Razorbacks are glad to have him back.

ARKANSAS AT-A-GLANCE
QB Ryan Mallett, one of nine starters back
on offense, won't practice this spring.
THE BASICS
Coach: Bobby Petrino
Last season: 8-5 overall, 3-5 in the SEC. Beat East Carolina 20-17 in overtime in the Liberty Bowl.
Spring dates: March 30-April 24.
RETURNING STARTERS
(minimum of six starts)
Offense (9): WR Joe Adams, WR Greg Childs, T Ray Dominguez, G Wade Grayson, T DeMarcus Love, QB Ryan Mallett, C Seth Oxner, TE D.J. Williams, WR Jarius Wright.
Defense (7): E Jake Bequette, LB Freddy Burton, CB Rudell Crim, SS Elton Ford, LB Jerry Franklin, LB Jerico Nelson, T Zach Stadther.
Special teams (2): P Dylan Breeding, K Alex Tejada.
With the offense in fine-tuning mode, the defense will be the focal point this spring. Arkansas was able to overcome a horrific unit in 2009 and go 8-5 because of the high-powered offense and because that defense ranked second in the SEC in turnovers forced with 30.

The defense still ranked last overall in the SEC (401.2 ypg). The worst aspect was the pass defense, which was the worst in the league (248.5 ypg).

Here's a look at Arkansas as it prepares for spring practice.

POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

There will be lots of skill-position talent back for an offense that should be one of the best in the nation. The junior receiving trio of Adams, Childs and Wright has few peers. Adams has the best agility and shake; Wright has speed and consistency; Childs is physical. Williams is a key weapon at tight end. The Hogs also welcome back four veteran running backs, headed by sophomore Ronnie Wingo. The top lineman - G Mitch Petrus - is gone, but four starters are back to protect all of that talent.

HELP IS NEEDED

A young secondary was burned often last season. It doesn't help that CB Jerell Norton declared for the draft. Crim and fellow senior CB Ramon Broadway need to provide leadership and stability. Junior CB Isaac Madison is back after missing 2009 with a knee injury. Former five-star recruit Darius Winston could be ready to blossom at corner as a sophomore. The pressure is on defensive coordinator/secondary coach Willy Robinson.

THREE GUYS TO WATCH

WR Greg Childs: He had 48 receptions for 894 yards (18.6 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns as a sophomore last season. This spring, he needs to show he can be the Hogs' No. 1 receiver.

DT DeQuinta Jones: He was one of the best true freshman defenders in years at Arkansas in 2009. Jones was a starter before an ankle injury caused him to miss the bowl game. He finished with 24 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss.

K Alex Tejada: Tejada, a senior, booted the winning field goal in overtime in the Liberty Bowl, but he has been inconsistent the past two seasons. Tejada had huge misses against Florida and LSU last season. Tejada needs a strong spring or he could lose his job this fall to one of two incoming freshman kickers.

THE PRESSURE IS ON

OT Ray Dominguez: He endured an inconsistent season and almost lost his job at one point to true freshman Anthony Oden. Dominguez, a senior, suffered bouts of jumping offside. In fact, he did it three times against Georgia. He needs to play with a sense of urgency this spring.

THE BUZZ

This spring is all about rehabbing the defense and tweaking a high-powered offense that may be somewhat limited with Mallett on the sideline. But also keep an eye on chemistry, as the Razorbacks must blend in some new assistant coaches. With offensive coordinator Paul Petrino - Bobby's little brother - leaving to become the OC at Illinois, Arkansas promoted quarterback coach Garrick McGee. Offensive line coach Mike Summers left to coach the line at Kentucky, and the Hogs made a great hire in tabbing Chris Klenakis from Nevada. Klenakis was the Wolf Pack's offensive coordinator and helped develop the "Pistol" offense. Bobby Petrino said he was intrigued by what elements of the "Pistol" he could blend with his scheme. Former Tennessee assistant Steve Caldwell joins the defensive staff as line coach. If the defense makes strides this spring, Arkansas could be a leading contender in the SEC West this fall.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.


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