NCF Nation: Mitch Petrus
Despite a deep draft class at defensive tackle, it's hard to believe Paea would have lasted past the third round. His pure power and explosiveness suggest tremendous upside, even more so when you consider he didn't start playing the game until his senior year of high school.
"He is one of the best tackles I've coached at any level," Beavers coach Mike Riley said.
"I just don't feel it was my turn to go to the league," Paea said. "I feel like I owe Oregon State a favor to come back and finish school. ... If not for Oregon State, I don't think I'd have these honors."
His honors include the Morris Trophy, which is given annually to the Pac-10's top defensive lineman as voted on by opposing offensive linemen.
Paea's numbers are good but won't blow anyone away. Over the past two seasons, he has recorded 19.5 tackles for a loss and eight sacks. But he's faced double-teams much of the time and still managed to be a disruptive force in the middle.
Not that he can't get better. He's been watching film of soon-to-be top-five picks Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh (On Suh: "He's a playmaker. He's a linebacker in a three-point stance.") as well as NFL Hall of Famer John Randall, trying to learn the finer points of playing defensive tackle.
Much of what he needs to do to get better should come just from seeing more action. He arrived at Oregon State after two years of junior college -- one as a redshirt -- but nonetheless broke into the starting lineup.
"I feel like my eyes need to get better," he said. "Sometimes the play is right there but I don't come off the block and make the play. I see how Suh and Gerald McCoy do that. That's their experience."
One things is certain: The now 310-pound Paea will test well at the NFL combine. He was recently captured on YouTube bench pressing 225 pounds 44 times. The NFL combine record is 45 repetitions, which is shared by three players, including former Arkansas offensive lineman Mitch Petrus this year. And the former rugby star is not just a meathead. His quickness is nearly as impressive as his strength. His highlight videos offer many examples of him running down plays.
But Paea said the NFL isn't front and center. The Beavers should again be in the thick of the Rose Bowl race, and he knows that he's a big reason why.
If he produces up to expectations, then he and the Beavers should thrive. And the NFL will be watching.
"I'm going to forget about the league and just play," he said. "Film doesn't lie. I've got to stay hungry and play every play like it's fourth-and-1."
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."