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March 23, 2009

Petrino finally has his quarterback at Arkansas

Give Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino a strong-armed quarterback, and history shows he'll field one of the highest-scoring offenses in college football.

His Louisville teams ranked 15th and first in the nation in scoring with Stefan LeFors at quarterback in '03 and '04, respectively. In '05 and '06, the Cardinals ranked third and fourth, respectively, with Brian Brohm at the helm.

With strong-armed Ryan Mallett expected to move under center, Arkansas fans already are hyping the Hogs. But more offense won't necessarily lead to more victories this fall unless progress is made this spring in patching up gaping holes in the secondary.

Here's a look at the Razorbacks as they prepare for spring drills.

ARKANSAS AT-A-GLANCE
Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett brings a big arm and should thrive in Bobby Petrino's offense.
THE BASICS
Coach: Bobby Petrino
Last season: 5-7, 2-6 SEC
Spring dates: March 24-April 19. The spring game is April 18.
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (7): WR Joe Adams, WR London Crawford, T Ray Dominguez, G Wade Grayson, G DeMarcus Love, RB Michael Smith, TE D.J. Williams.
Defense (9): E Jake Bequette, CB Ramon Broadway, E Adrian Davis, LB Wendel Davis, FS Elton Ford, LB Jerry Franklin, CB Isaac Madison, T Malcolm Sheppard, NT Zach Stadther.
Special teams (1): K Alex Tejada.
Positions of strength

The Razorbacks return six receivers who had at least 18 catches in '09, and that was without a star quarterback throwing the ball. Former walk-on Lucas Miller was the second-leading receiver behind D.J. Williams, who also splits out wide at times. Arkansas has good speed at receiver. The Hogs are solid at running back, too. Michael Smith was the leading rusher, although he'll likely miss all of spring practice with a torn hamstring. Still, they have several other options. Broderick Green, a former four-star prospect, transferred from USC. Sophomore Dennis Johnson rushed for more than 120 yards in last season's win over LSU. De'Anthony Curtis was a four-star prospect in 2008, and Knile Davis is a four-star prospect who enrolled early and will participate in spring practice. All four starters are back on the defensive line.

Help is needed

Arkansas had coverage issues last season. Though the Razorbacks ranked a so-so 54th nationally in pass defense, they also gave up 22 touchdown passes. Eight opponents passed for more than 200 yards against the Hogs. Patching up the secondary is near the top of the "to do" list this spring. Elton Ford was playing well until a neck injury against Ole Miss ended his season prematurely. Isaac Madison struggled a bit. The Razorbacks responded by signing three junior college defensive backs.

Keep an eye on

RB Knile Davis: Davis was the No. 17 running back in the nation in the class of 2009. An early enrollee, the 17-year-old Davis brings a dimension of power to the backfield.

QB Ryan Mallett: Rated the nation's No. 4 prospect two years ago, Mallett sat out last season after transferring from Michigan. He has a big body (6 feet 6/255 pounds) and a big arm, and he figures to be perfect fit in Petrino's offense.

DB Andru Stewart: Although Stewart appeared in just six games for the College of the Sequoias last season, he still had three interceptions, forced four fumbles and blocked two kicks. Arkansas needs a playmaker in the secondary, and Stewart - who enrolled in January - has shown he can be one.

His time is now

Senior wide receiver London Crawford had the winning touchdown catch against LSU last year. Here's the problem it was his only touchdown catch of the season. Crawford started all season, but managed only 27 catches and never had more than three in a game. He's a senior and has just 40 career receptions. The Razorbacks have a good group of young receivers. Crawford needs a productive spring or he easily could slip behind the emerging players on the depth chart.

The buzz

Though the record left something to be desired, the Razorbacks showed progress in the second half of their first season under Petrino. That adds encouragement for his second season. But the most encouraging factor is what is expected to be an upgraded quarterback situation. Mallett is eligible, and he'll vie with redshirt freshman Tyler Wilson - once a four-star prospect - for the starting job.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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