|ESPN.com: NCF Nation||[Print without images]|
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Arkansas senior guard Mitch Petrus is not one to sugarcoat anything. He'll tell you so himself.
So when he says the Hogs' offensive line needs to be the most improved unit on the team, believe it.
When he says the offensive line is the "X factor" to this offense being one of the most explosive in the country, believe it.
|Wesley Hitt/Getty Images|
|Guard Mitch Petrus knows the offensive line will be crucial to Arkansas' success.|
And when he says he's matured by leaps and bounds after having to sit out last season because he fell short in the classroom, believe it.
"It's important to see things the way they are," said Petrus, a second-team All-SEC selection two years ago. "The truth is that we have good players everywhere else. If the offensive line can hold its own and come through, we're going to be a really good team."
The Hogs return three starters on the offensive line from last season, and plugging Petrus back into the equation makes it four guys who've been full-time starters at some point.
"Mitch plays with a real good attitude," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "He's kind of nasty and mean and very, very aggressive. That kind of mentality helps the rest of our offensive line, being able to see that and having somebody with that personality playing with them."
It wasn't a pretty sight at times a year ago for anybody associated with the Hogs' offensive line. It allowed a staggering 46 quarterback sacks, which was the second-highest total among all FBS teams.
"It was not acceptable how many sacks we gave up," Petrus said. "We've got to improve, and we've been working hard to get it done. We're headed in the right direction, but we never can be satisfied with where we are.
"What our goal is and what we talk about is that we don't want to take one step forward and two steps back and go back and forth and back and forth and never be getting anywhere. We understand we're going to have bad practices some days, but it's important to not take steps back."
Petrus took a huge step back last year off the field, one that cost him and the team. He allowed himself to fall behind in the classroom and came up academically ineligible.
Seeing the Hogs struggle up front was excruciating for Petrus because he couldn't do anything about it. Initially, he wanted to kick himself, but was determined to turn a negative into a positive.
"I switched majors and a lot of my hours didn't transfer, and it hurt my GPA not having those hours," Petrus explained. "But you know what? That's what happens. I've learned my lesson. I wasn't happy about the situation. But the good thing was that I didn't redshirt as a freshman, and I had a year to redshirt and sit out.
"I just as well could not be here right now if I had redshirted or gotten here a year earlier. I would have been done. An extra year in this offense has done nothing but help me."
Petrino said Petrus showed him something with the way he responded to his adversity.
"It was really hard on him last year not being able to play," Petrino said. "The thing I like more than anything is that he came to practice every day with a good attitude and was on the scout team and did everything he could to make sure the scout team and the offensive line on the scout team did a good job.
"He did a much better job in the classroom, too. He didn't miss any classes and got his GPA way up and has put himself in a position where he can graduate real soon."
The 6-foot-4, 315-pound Petrus, who was a fullback on the 2006 team when Darren McFadden and Felix Jones combined for 2,815 rushing yards, started spring practice at left guard, but moved over to right guard. He'll play alongside senior DeMarcus Love, who's making the move from guard to tackle.
"The thing about Mitch is that he can block anybody himself," said Arkansas' All-SEC tight end D.J. Williams. "He's so strong, the strongest guy on the team. Having him in there will free up a lot of things for us. We'll be able to pull an extra guard or not have to worry about double-teaming a big-time tackle from another team."
And while the jury may still be out on how good this Arkansas offensive line can be, Petrus embraces the fact that so much is riding on how he and his fellow "Hogs" up front perform.
"We control our own destiny in a sense," Petrus said. "It's not like we've got a great offensive line and a bunch of receivers who can't catch anything and we're doing everything we can and they're not catching it. We've got some of the best guys in the country that can catch the ball.
"It's going to be in our hands. Everybody else is going to handle their business. We just need to make sure we handle ours."