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Friday, April 15, 2011
Exiting the spring: Arkansas

By Chris Low

Spring game: 4 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN and ESPN3.com

Questions answered: Even before spring practice began, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino felt like this would be his best defense since arriving in Fayetteville in 2008. And while the true test will come next fall, neither Petrino nor defensive coordinator Willy Robinson saw anything this spring that would make them think otherwise. The Hogs have depth and size up front. They’ve greatly improved their speed and have more experience than they've ever had across the board on defense. This is also a team with strong leadership. Senior defensive end Jake Bequette, senior safety/linebacker Jerico Nelson, senior safety Tramain Thomas and senior receiver Jarius Wright were already key guys who’d taken on leadership roles, but others such as junior running back Knile Davis stepped up and answered that call this spring.

Questions unanswered: The Hogs will be breaking in a pair of new offensive tackles in the fall. True freshman Brey Cook is one of those, and while he’s light years ahead of where most guys who just turned 18 would be, there’s still the unknown of going to battle in this league with a first-year player at tackle. Petrino is also looking for junior quarterback Tyler Wilson to give everybody in the huddle “more of a calming effect” with his consistency. Wilson had a solid spring, although he’s still trying to shake loose from sophomore Brandon Mitchell and nail down the starting job. On defense, Robinson said the Hogs came up short at cornerback in the depth department and will need some young guys to come in and help next season.

Spring stars: Coaches and players alike were raving about the athleticism of 325-pound junior college newcomer Robert Thomas, who showed off what he could do at defensive tackle with projected starters Byran Jones and DeQuinta Jones sitting out the spring while recovering from injuries. The Hogs are already deep and talented at receiver, but might have found another playmaker in sophomore Julian Horton. And speaking of talented receivers, senior Joe Adams just gets a little more dynamic every time he steps onto the field. He caught 12 passes in last Saturday’s scrimmage, including touchdown passes of 59 and 35 yards.

Of note: Senior Bret Harris has been one of the surprises of the spring. He’s worked the last two weeks as the Hogs’ starting weak side linebacker, although junior Terrell Williams is also pushing for that spot. … Petrino said the job John L. Smith has done with with Arkansas’ special teams has been “awesome," in particular the way Smith has handled the Hogs’ place kicker (Zach Hocker) and punter (Dylan Breeding). … True freshman receiver Quinta Funderburk returned to the team this week after missing six practices for undisclosed reasons. Funderburk’s high school coach had told a newspaper that Funderburk was quitting football. … Strength and conditioning coach Jason Veltkamp said this is the most team speed the Hogs have had under Petrino “by far.” ... Arkansas returns players that scored 48 of the team's 58 offensive touchdowns last season.